When the Barely Possible Counts Against You

Peter Smith

Frequent contributor

It is possible that, decades ago, I did poorly executed cartwheels in the altogether around a school swimming pool without any teacher or pool attendant noticing. Well, one complainant, now in adulthood, says I did. For the avoidance of doubt, I protest my innocence of this alleged offence. And I think I should do so because it is clear to me now that provided something is possible, however unlikely, it is capable of being counted against me. Or, at the very least, it offers me no refuge from the administration of justice Victoria-style.

Thus, two of the three judges of the Victorian Court of Appeal adjudged that it was not impossible for Cardinal Pell to have committed the alleged offences despite all of the logistical difficulties. I have enormous trouble getting my head around the logic and force of this argument. If I say it would have been impossible for me to have done something, I might mean that literally. For example, in circumstances where I have a cast-iron alibi. Or, in ordinary parlance, I might mean that it stretches credulity for me have done the something in question.

Let me show my considerable perspicacity and say that I think that the latter is what Pell, through his counsel, was claiming. For someone to challenge this claim by asserting that what is alleged is indeed possible is not, to put a fine point on it, terribly insightful. Someone, less polite than me, might call it obtuse.

Am I wrong about this case? Is white really black? Does two plus two actually equal five? The only evidence against Pell – if you ignore scurrilous gossip and unsubstantiated accusations, as you must – is the uncorroborated say-so of one complainant describing events of some twenty-two years before. In such a case, the logistical difficulties of the events having occurred, and nineteen of them were put forward without challenge, I understand, can only be counted in the favour of the accused. They can’t be turned around so that the mere possibility of the events occurring is somehow put in the accused person’s debit column.

“An unusual feature of this case was that it depended entirely upon the complainant being accepted, beyond reasonable doubt, as a credible and reliable witness. Yet the jury were invited to accept his evidence without there being any independent support for it.”
 — Justice Mark Weinberg in his dissent

Let me also say that I am absolutely over this business of a complainant being believed because they appear to be credible. Appearing credible is not irrelevant but there has to be more. Surely, there has to be more when you are at the point of ruining a person’s legacy and their reputation and relieving them of their freedom. That’s why we have the standard of proof of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Lots of guilty people go free as a necessary cost of ensuring that the legal system can’t be wielded to destroy our freedom by being used capriciously against us.

Con men are in the news all the time for ripping off people. In all cases, by definition, they spin a good convincing yarn. They are credible. Bernie Madoff didn’t get rich by appearing to be a crook. But people can genuinely believe what isn’t true.

My daughter left me in her flat drinking beer and watching football the other late afternoon while she and her husband went looking at a couple of child-care centres. She put a lasagna in the oven and said it would be okay, but asked me to intervene if I smelt something burning. When she returned home the lasagne had overcooked; though short of burning. She gently chided me for not checking on it, as she had asked. I needed her husband to verify that she had not in fact asked me to check on it. She believed she’d asked me; she hadn’t. She just made it up and thought it was true.

Now clearly this example of mine is trivial in the scheme of things. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the difference between the truth and what people believe. Memories can be invented and embellished through time.

Did Christine Blasey Ford actually believe that Brett Kavanaugh and his mate assaulted her many years before? Personally, I don’t think she appeared credible. There I go. I must remember that appearances in either direction can be deceptive. People of the world, including most especially judges, one would think, know that.

It was not impossible that Kavanaugh did it. But there was no corroboration and what evidence there was made it quite unlikely and counted rightly in Kavanaugh’s favour. For example, people who Ford claimed were at the party when the alleged assault took place had no memory of such a party. Of course, it is not impossible that they could have forgotten. But not even the Democrats construed that as counting against Kavanaugh.

And here’s another thing about this travesty of justice. Reportedly, the Victorian office of public prosecutions didn’t think the case strong enough to bring, yet the police persisted. Indicative of reasonable doubt?

The first jury failed to form a unanimous verdict. Some reports suggest that it was 10 to 2 for acquittal. Why don’t we know? Surely there is a legitimate public interest in knowing. That aside, we know that some on the jury favoured acquittal. Indicative of reasonable doubt?

Leave aside the mystery of the second jury forming a unanimous guilty verdict on exactly the same evidence that stymied the first jury, one out of three appeal judges favoured acquittal. Having another judge of the same mindset as Mark Weinberg, instead of one of the other two, and Pell is free. Weinberg has much deeper experience in criminal matters than do his fellow judges, who reportedly are versed in corporate matters and human rights. Indicative of reasonable doubt? I would jolly well say so.

Hopefully the High Court will hear the case and acquit. This is nothing at all to do with my belief that Pell is innocent. I have no special knowledge of the truth. I wasn’t there. It has everything to do with the evidence. There is not nearly enough. Surely it is wrong to incarcerate someone because a single complainant looks convincing, particularly in circumstances where the alleged offences took place decades ago and, to boot, in the most improbable of circumstances.

What the heck is going on? I find it troubling beyond words. Something seems rotten in the State of Victoria.

Here’s another hope. I am not sure how realistic it is. It is that the Pope, whatever happens, will keep Pell frocked and as a cardinal. Secular justice has gone badly off the rails. The Church should form its own view independently and act accordingly. It wouldn’t be the first time in history that a cleric has been unjustly imprisoned. I believe Saint Peter spent some time there. Show your support

Double Standards in the Court of Appeal

Keith Windschuttle

Editor, Quadrant Magazine

To support their case for rejecting the appeal of Cardinal George Pell against his conviction for sexual abuse of two choirboys in 1996, two of the Victorian appeal court judges, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and President of the Court of Appeal Chris Maxwell, reject the claim that the sole witness against Pell was dishonest and unreliable. Defence counsel Robert Richter had pointed to significant differences in the surviving choirboy’s original statements to the police, who he first contacted in June 2015, compared to statements he made about the same issues at the first trial in August-September 2018. The two judges argue that discrepancies and inconsistencies do not necessarily equate to dishonesty and unreliability. They quote Justice Michael McHugh’s comments in the High Court’s 1994 benchmark case, M v Queen:

It is the everyday experience of the courts that honest witnesses are frequently in error about the details of events. The more accounts that they are asked to give the greater is the chance that there will be discrepancies about details and even inconsistencies in the various accounts … If a jury thinks that the demeanour of the witness or the probability of occurrence of the witness’s general account is persuasive, they may reasonably think that discrepancies or even inconsistencies concerning details are of little moment.

Now, McHugh’s comments would seem to most people to be fair enough. Ferguson and Maxwell go on to quote Peter Kidd, the judge in Pell’s original trial, who gave his jury much the same advice:

When you are assessing the evidence, also bear in mind that experience shows the following.  One, people may not remember all the details of a sexual offence or may not describe a sexual offence in the same way each time. Two, trauma may affect different people differently, including by affecting how they recall events. Three, it is common for there to be differences in accounts of a sexual offence.  For example, people may describe a sexual offence differently at different times to different people or in different contexts. 

Again, this all seems hard to deny. However, in their response to the Pell appeal, Ferguson and Maxwell take this point much further. Rather than simply using it as a caution against assuming a witness’s uncertainty or mistakes are some kind of proof of his dishonesty, they go on to argue that discrepancies and inconsistencies can actually be testimony to a witness’s credibility. In the Pell case, they argue that, when the choirboy was confronted in cross-examination at the trial with changes he apparently made to cover gaps or problems with his previous statements to the police, he either admitted he was wrong or said it all happened when he was only thirteen so it was hard to remember back that far. Hence, the two judges claim, he should be regarded as an honest person and everything he says should be believed.

Throughout his evidence, [the choirboy] came across as someone who was telling the truth.  He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution.  As might have been expected, there were some things which he could remember and many things which he could not.  And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth.

On another page of their judgment, they give three examples in the choirboy’s evidence against Pell:

A further indication of A’s credibility, in our view, was his admitted uncertainty about a number of matters which, if the story had been invented or was an entrenched fantasy, he might have been expected to describe with confidence. Striking examples of this were: his uncertainty about whether Cardinal Pell closed the door in the first incident; his lack of recall as to whether he had screamed or called out during the first incident; and his uncertainty about which hand Cardinal Pell had used in the second incident.

In other words, defects in the key witness’s case should be interpreted as confirmation he is telling the truth. Hence the more inconsistencies that emerge in the prosecution case, the more credible that case becomes!

When confronted by points of argument that are supported by little evidence to either confirm or refute what happened, the judges still side with the choirboy by introducing the concept of a “ring of truth”. They deploy this metaphor three times in their judgment:

He had been caught red-handed, in a prohibited place, and anything he said about Cardinal Pell was almost certain to be disbelieved.  What followed in his evidence also had the ring of truth.

In our view, it was open to the jury to conclude that [the choirboy] was not here concocting his answers.  What he said had the ring of truth, as did his response when the same topic was raised with him later in the cross-examination.

As might have been expected, there were some things which he could remember and many things which he could not.  And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth.

Now, if judges want to rest their faith in witnesses on an entirely subjective notion like “ring of truth” which, in the absence of hard evidence, can only exist in the eye of a beholder, then they should treat all witnesses equally. They should regard the discrepancies and uncertainties of witnesses for both sides as evidence of their attempts to be honest too. Yet in Pell’s appeal, witnesses whose evidence tended to support the Cardinal get very different treatment. In fact, in Ferguson and Maxwell’s analysis, every time a pro-Pell witness has an apparent discrepancy in his evidence, or even simply feels uncertain about what happened, the two judges use this to disparage his claims. Some examples of this process are as follows.

One part of Pell’s defence was that it was impossible for him to be alone with the choirboys in the sacristy a few minutes after a Sunday Solemn Mass because at the time he would always be accompanied by the cathedral’s master of ceremonies, The centuries-old canon law for the Catholic Church’s ritual for the Mass demanded this be adhered to. At St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s the master of ceremonies was Monsignor Charles Portelli, whose cross-examination on this issue is quoted at length in the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment:

Q:       Would there ever be an occasion, Monsignor, where you did not accompany Archbishop Pell back to his sacristy after Sunday solemn Mass?

A:       Would there ever have been?  There may have been.  I can’t recall when that would have been, but I certainly would not have been very far because I would have to disrobe myself.  So I had to take off what I was wearing and put on my street clothes.

Q:       So what’s the answer?  I think the question was simply was there an occasion or occasions when you did not accompany him back to the sacristy when he went back to the sacristy to derobe, that was the question?

A:       Not that I recall, but it is possible that there may have been, but not that I recall. …

Q:       The practice would be what when you got back, left the steps and made your way back to the sacristy what would your practice be?

A:       The practice?

Q:       In terms of walking back to the sacristy in which Archbishop Pell derobed?

A:       Yes, we would [go] back to the sacristy.  He would walk to the bench and begin removing various vestments.

Q:       Were there occasions, or might there have been an occasion or occasions when having escorted Archbishop Pell back after Mass and having got to the area outside the priest sacristy door where he was to derobe that you didn’t actually go in with him, but went off somewhere else; is that possible?

A:       Yes, it is possible.

Q:       Where might the somewhere else be that you would have gone to?

A:       If we had another function in the Cathedral that afternoon I would have gone back to the sanctuary by the back entrance to the sanctuary to make sure for instance that the books were all in place, that the right sermon was in place, and so on.

Q:       How long would you be gone for?

A:       Two minutes.

Q:       So that would include walking from where to the back of the sanctuary, from where to where?

A:       Well, if I didn’t go back into the sacristy with him I would have walked straight on to the sanctuary from the side.

In response to this, Pell’s counsel said there was nothing to indicate any lack of reliability in Portelli’s evidence.  It was a “badge of credibility” for Portelli to have acknowledged that there was something which he was unable to remember.  Moreover, it had never been suggested to the jury that Portelli was lying, or was partisan, or that “on the specific matters that were important, … his evidence lacked any reliability at all”.

However, despite the fact that Pell’s counsel was adopting here the very same argument that Ferguson and Maxwell used to confirm the reliability of the choirboy, the two judges decline to respond to Portelli the same way. Instead, they use his statements in the cross examination above to discredit all his evidence, arguing:

In our view, the jury were entitled to have reservations about the reliability of Portelli’s affirmative answers under cross-examination when they were viewed in the light of his answers in examination in chief and re-examination. Such reservations were justified, in our view, by the obvious contrast between the uncertainty of his responses to the prosecutor’s questions and his ready adoption of statements put to him by defence counsel about what he recalled. In the circumstances, it was open to the jury to doubt whether those affirmative answers in cross-examination represented an actual revival of recollection … While it may be accepted that he had a general recollection of the first time Cardinal Pell said Sunday solemn Mass at the Cathedral, his evidence demonstrated a lack of detailed recollection of the events that took place on that day.

Ferguson and Maxwell deploy similar tactics to discredit the testimony of the cathedral’s sacristan, Maxwell Potter, who, over a period of about five years, had on two occasions been a substitute for Portelli in accompanying Pell to the sacristy after Mass.

Potter was asked in which year the first two Sunday Masses said by Cardinal Pell had taken place.  He said it was 1997 [in reality, December 1996].  This error was noted in the written case filed on behalf of Cardinal Pell, as was Potter’s erroneous description of the altar servers as boys between the ages of 12–15 years, rather than (as was the fact) adult men … The defence conceded in final address that Potter’s “memory may not be terrific” and senior counsel for Cardinal Pell made a similar concession in this Court. In the circumstances, the jury would have been well justified in having doubts about the reliability of Potter’s evidence, especially his answers under cross-examination.  Certainly, the jury had a solid basis for finding that Potter’s evidence did not give rise to a reasonable doubt about Cardinal Pell’s guilt. [emphasis added]

They do the same to altar server, Daniel McGlone, who gave a detailed description of the first Solemn Mass at St Patrick’s in December 1996. McGlone said his memory of meeting George Pell was vivid since his mother accompanied him to meet and talk with the charismatic new archbishop. After the Mass’s ceremony and a procession to the western end of the cathedral, McGlone met his mother inside the cathedral and then went with her to the outside cathedral steps, where he saw Pell doing a “meet and greet” with parishioners. He introduced his mother to Pell and they conversed. This was damaging evidence to the prosecution’s case, because if Pell had really spent even a few minutes at this location, he would not have had enough additional time to go back to the sacristy to have his way with the choirboys there. However, in the course of his cross examination, McGlone said he had not been to an evening vigil Mass celebrated by Pell one night in November 1996. The prosecution then produced a photograph of him at that evening mass, causing McGlone to admit he must have had an inaccurate recollection of the dates in question in 1996. Ferguson and Maxwell use this marginally relevant admission to dismiss any prospect that McGlone’s evidence threatened the credibility of the choirboy’s claim. They argue:

The fact of the encounter between McGlone’s mother and Cardinal Pell was not in doubt. There was, however, some uncertainty about the date on which it occurred. McGlone was confident that the occasion of his mother’s visit was the first time Cardinal Pell had said Mass in the Cathedral [i.e. 15 December 1996] But, as the prosecution pointed out both at trial and on the appeal, McGlone agreed in re-examination that (contrary to his recollection) he had attended an evening vigil Mass celebrated by Cardinal Pell on 23 November 1996.  Accepting, however, that the encounter occurred on either 15 or 22 December 1996, this did not make the first incident an impossibility. It simply ruled out one of those two Sundays, as the prosecutor pointed out to the jury in final address.  Consequently, the jury did not on this account have to have a reasonable doubt about A’s evidence in relation to the first incident.

What stands out in the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment is a relentless and often desperate hunt for evidence to discredit pro-Pell witnesses. It is a theme repeated at almost every stage of their verbal re-enactment of events, in order to dismiss objections to the choirboy’s claims about when and where he was abused, and where George Pell was and what he was doing at the same time.

As well as Portelli, Potter and McGlone, the judges adopt a similar approach to the evidence given by altar server Jeffrey Connor, choir marshal Peter Finnigan, choirmaster and organist John Mallinson, and choirmaster and assistant organist Geoffrey Cox.

For example, the choirboy’s version of events is that after he and his friend were assaulted by Pell, he changed and went straight home by car – “he did remember being in the car on the way home and ‘sort of thinking about it’,” the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment records. But both Finnigan and Cox gave evidence that there was a choir rehearsal scheduled for 12pm noon, immediately after Mass on Sunday December 15 and the boys’ attendance would have been compulsory, so they couldn’t have gone straight home at all. Despite what had allegedly happened to them, they would have had to perform. Finnigan and Cox provided written evidence of this: a circular letter to parents giving the date and time of two choir rehearsals, and a diary entry about one of them. Ferguson and Maxwell admit in their judgment that the choirboy could not reconcile his account of what happened that day with the post-Mass rehearsal. Yet they go on to diminish the value of Finnigan and Cox’s evidence because both acknowledged in cross-examination that they could not remember actually attending that particular choir rehearsal twenty years ago. They had relied upon their written documents for the evidence that it occurred then. “As the Crown points out,” the two judges write, “the relevant witnesses had no independent memory of those rehearsals actually having taken place”. What they found more persuasive here was the word of the choirboy. They quote from his cross-examination:

[The choirboy] accepted that Mr Finnigan conducted such rehearsals “as though they were military exercises” and would take note of people who failed to attend.  It was then put to him that his description of what happened was “just impossible”. [The choirboy] denied that. When asked why it was not impossible, he responded:

Because I was orally raped in a … room after Mass.

Asked again, he responded:

Because I was assaulted in a room after Mass and that’s why I’m here.

In other words, in the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment, the choirboy’s memory of an event twenty-two years after it supposedly occurred is a more acceptable piece of evidence than the church’s documents written at the time the offence purportedly took place.

There is one further issue worth discussing that initially appears to give some credence to the choirboys’ claims, but for which the defence did not call any witnesses. This is the question of how the choirboy could describe with some accuracy how the interior of the sacristy looked when Pell found him there. The priests’ sacristy was a room that was normally out of bounds to choirboys. In response to Pell’s lawyers’ claim in his appeal that the prosecution had “relied entirely upon the uncorroborated evidence” of the choirboy, the prosecution replied:

There was some corroborative or supportive evidence. For instance, the complainant accurately described the layout of the Priests’ Sacristy – a room in which he had never been as far as he could recall.

Ferguson and Maxwell seize on this point.

The credibility of [the choirboy’s] account was considerably enhanced by the accuracy of his description of the Priests’ Sacristy.  He was able to describe in some detail the layout and furnishing of the alcove where he and [his friend] were discovered by Cardinal Pell.  As the Crown pointed out, [the choirboy] correctly placed the wine area in the alcove, not where it is currently located… In our view, the jury were entitled to view these ‘undisputed facts’ as independent confirmation of [the choirboy’s] account of having been in the Priests’ Sacristy in that period.  There was nothing to suggest that his knowledge of those matters could have been obtained otherwise.  [The choirboy’s] evidence was that he had never been in the Priests’ Sacristy before. 

But then, the judgment concedes something unexpected. The choirboy had previously seen inside the priests’ sacristy after all.

In cross-examination, he accepted, but did not recall, that he had been taken on a tour of the Cathedral when he first joined the choir. He said that he had no recollection of being shown the sacrisities on such a tour, but did not dispute it. 

But instead of recording this as “a possibility” on Pell’s side of the equation, of similar weight to all the other tenuous possibilities that Ferguson and Maxwell tally to make their case against Pell, they dismiss this one, saying the jury was entitled to ignore it:

The jury were entitled, in our view, to discount the possibility that going on such a tour would have explained [the choirboy’s] detailed knowledge — and recollection 20 years later — of the interior of that particular room. 

So the choirboy’s possible previous visit to the sacristy, and any knowledge of it he might have gained there, is turned into a matter of little consequence. Once again, the two judges grant a concession to the choirboy that they never conceded to Portelli or any of the other witnesses from the Cathedral.

In short, the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment is one that bends over backwards to support the conclusion it is determined to reach, no matter how embarrassing the position its authors are left in.


To conclude here, let me remind readers just how precarious the case against Pell was from the start. As noted in the dissenting opinion of the third appeal court judge, Mark Weinberg, Pell’s defence identified at least five topics that were essential for the prosecution to succeed. They are:

# Pell was alone at the time of the alleged offending;

# He did not greet parishioners on the steps of the cathedral after Mass;

# The vestments he wore were able to be manoeuvred to expose his penis;

# The choirboys were able to access the sacristy corridor;

# The choirboys were able to break away from the procession undetected.

If the jury had entertained a reasonable doubt about any one of these topics, Weinberg says, that would have been fatal to the prosecution case. His judgment is 202 pages, just shy of 70,000 words – twice as long as that of Ferguson and Maxwell – so it deserves a corresponding degree of attention, which will be given in a separate article in Quadrant, to follow soon.

Keith Windschuttle is the editor of Quadrant Show your support Donate Now

  • Mike O’Ceirin – 26th August 2019

The Scapegoating of Cardinal Pell

Joel Hodge

n the most contentious criminal matter in Australia in decades, the full bench of the High Court of Australia unanimously acquitted Cardinal George Pell of five charges of child sexual assault. With this unanimous acquittal, questions about Pell’s case now turn towards those who prosecuted and supported the case against Pell. Were they out to “get Pell”? Was Pell a scapegoat?

Deficiencies in the Victorian criminal justice system have been exposed by the High Court’s verdict. The High Court established that Cardinal Pell was wrongfully convicted by a jury, whose verdict was incorrectly upheld by the Victorian Court of Appeal in a two-to-one decision. For these wrongful convictions, Cardinal Pell was deprived of his freedom for over 400 days, was subjected to intense public vitriol, and had his reputation internationally discredited.

The High Court’s unanimous and definitive verdict suggests that Pell was unfairly and improperly targeted by the Victorian criminal justice system and wider public discourse. I intend to assess this claim. If it is true, the implications are of great significance for major institutions in Australia, such as the criminal justice system and media, and the behaviour of society more generally. They also bear on an important attitude evident across the Western world: of unreservedly believing alleged victims of abuse or assault, and pursuing charges based on their testimony, regardless of counter-evidence.

This essay appears in June’s Quadrant

In its judgement, the High Court stated that the jury, if acting rationally, should have had reasonable doubt about the charges against Cardinal Pell, and that the Court of Appeal should have recognised the grounds for reasonable doubt. These grounds were based on the unchallenged evidence of twenty-three opportunity witnesses. The High Court justices concluded: “the issue for the Court of Appeal was whether the compounding improbabilities caused by the unchallenged evidence … nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt. Plainly they did.” (Paragraph 119, Pell v The Queen [2020] HCA 12).[1]

On this basis, the seven justices unanimously concluded that there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”. (Paragraph 9, Pell v The Queen [2020] HCA 12). This statement is damning and compels deep reflection. How did the State of Victoria end up at the High Court with such a clearly weak and problematic case?

To begin with, it is incorrect to label the High Court’s verdict as being about insufficient evidence or the result of a legal “technicality”, as some have done.[2] The High Court justices are clear in their reasons that their verdict is about the weight of unchallenged evidence that clearly undermined the plausibility of the convictions. These convictions were made on the basis of complainant J’s testimony about events in St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996-97. Despite being clearly contradicted by the unchallenged evidence, the complainant’s testimony was affirmed by the jury and Court of Appeal majority, particularly because the complainant’s demeanour was judged to be credible. The High Court goes over the unchallenged evidence at length in its judgment, in order to show the inadequacy of the jury’s verdict and the Court of Appeal’s majority decision.

It is also important to note that the High Court’s verdict is not a rebuke to victims. Despite questioning the weight put on the complainant’s testimony in Pell’s case, the High Court states that its verdict does not imply that a complainant’s testimony is insufficient to gain a conviction: “There is no requirement that a complainant’s evidence be corroborated before a jury may return a verdict of guilty upon it.” (paragraph 53 of the High Court judgement in Pell v The Queen). It does disqualify, however, those complaints from resulting in convictions that have unchallenged evidence that counters the complainant’s testimony, as in Pell’s case.

This is a reasonable position and is the basis of the Anglophone justice system. Reasonable doubt requires a high level of prudential judgment about evidence and context. Clearly, while convictions against abusers are paramount, pursuing such convictions should not come at the expense of innocent people. Convicting people despite and against the evidence will only discredit the effort to bring real perpetrators to justice.

Given the failures in Cardinal Pell’s case, some are asking whether the Victorian legal system was captive to mob justice. The journalist Andrew Bolt has stated that the public and legal campaign against Cardinal Pell was a form of scapegoating.[3] Pell has agreed with this characterisation.[4] The Jesuit human rights lawyer Frank Brennan has argued that the “rule of law” was effectively not extended to Pell.[5] Even Pell’s sentencing judge, Chief Judge of the County Court Peter Kidd, noted that they were “examples of a ‘witch-hunt’ or ‘lynch mob’ mentality in relation to Cardinal Pell”.[6]

As with Lindy Chamberlain, who was wrongfully convicted in the 1980s of killing her daughter in the Northern Territory, there was a high-profile campaign over a number of years led by parts of the media, police and public against Pell. This campaign occurred at a time when the Catholic Church was under particular and intense scrutiny for its terrible mishandling of historic sexual abuse claims. The Australian’s Paul Kelly argues: “Pell became a hate figure in a culture justifiably angry at the church’s systemic child abuse.”[7]

Professor Greg Craven, a constitutional lawyer and Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, claims that Pell was tried, before he even went to court, by a “media mob”.[8] Journalist Chris Kenny has argued similarly, that Cardinal Pell was tried by media, and that Pell came to personify the failings of the Catholic Church in the popular imagination.[9] In particular, some media organisations, such as the ABC, and some prominent public figures, such as the singer-songwriter Tim Minchin, relentlessly pursued Pell, as Craven comments:

This is where the Pell case has gone terribly wrong. Impartial judge and jury accepted, parts of the media—notably the ABC and former Fairfax journalists—have spent years attempting to ensure Pell is the most odious figure in Australia. They seemed to want him in the dock as an ogre, not a defendant.[10]

Even before Pell went to trial, he was being called “scum”, “pompous buffoon” and “coward” in mainstream discourse—across mainstream media platforms—by Tim Minchin.[11] Moreover, the ABC—spearheaded by journalists such as Louise Milligan—publicly aired claims against Pell without any response from him and with little consideration of counter-evidence. Milligan’s investigations of Pell aired on ABC television in prime time, including in an extraordinary 7.30 episode entirely given over to complainants, and in a book about Pell expeditiously published by Melbourne University Press.

Milligan has claimed she was just putting the allegations of victims on public record. There is, of course, great sympathy for such claims, given the history of cover-ups in the Catholic Church (and beyond). However, journalistic ethics dictates that one does not put claims to the public without investigating the full range of evidence and airing such evidence, including a defence from the accused. Milligan’s ABC investigations and book on Pell were blatantly one-sided.

Because of what seems to be bias, much of the media made basic errors and ignored evidence. The former editor of the Australian and the Courier Mail, Chris Mitchell (whose papers extensively covered historical sexual abuse) argues that the media should have been aware of the basic problems with the complaints against Pell, especially with respect to alleged incidents in St Patrick’s Cathedral:

The lack of grooming and public nature of the alleged crimes should have raised alarm bells for editors, reporters, book publishers and police investigators. Where was the evidence of the long-term grooming of a child that usually occurs before abuse by a trusted priest? Why would Pell, having just ascended to high office, risk everything with two boys he did not know? Their parents could have been police for all he knew.[12]

Much of the media did not do their due diligence by investigating the claims properly and evaluating them rigorously and dispassionately. Instead, they ignored major issues with the allegations, and, as Bolt argues, even led the mob against Pell.[13] The ABC has been particularly subjected to criticism in this regard, though it was not alone in problematic coverage of Pell. Nevertheless, ABC journalists led much of the media pack, especially in programs such as 7.30, Four Corners and Revelations. After Pell’s acquittal, the criticism of the ABC’s coverage resulted in it providing a defence of its coverage.[14] While the ABC showed that some supporters of Pell were occasionally interviewed, it did not account for the way ABC journalists publicly prosecuted a case against Pell for years before the trial and then after his initial conviction. Whole programs were devoted to Pell which did little more than sensationally air claims against him, rather than test or investigate such claims. Even the ABC’s Media Watch reproached Louise Milligan for not airing Pell’s defence against such claims.

Author Louise Milligan enjoyed a friendly chat with magistrate Wallington on ABC radio. Wallington would subsequently send Pell to trial after a committal at which Milligan testified.

Moreover, the ABC coverage of Pell’s acquittal was minimal in comparison to its coverage of his conviction and initial appeal. Following the acquittal itself, there has been little discussion of the verdict on major ABC programs such as Insiders. There also have been no detailed articles or programs about the verdict (in contrast to pre-acquittal coverage) or how the ABC got their investigations so wrong. Some have argued that the ABC is refusing to accept responsibility. This is ironic, but not surprising: all institutions protect themselves.

The frenzied effort to “get Pell” seems to have been driven by an attitude of believing victims—no matter what—and an effort to make up for past sins. Like most institutions, the ABC and other media agencies neglected or ignored past abuse allegations. Gerard Henderson has written on the ABC’s double standards with reporting convictions of abuse amongst its staff and handling of past abuse claims.[15] The media were slow to investigate past claims and are now trying to compensate. It is good that they are trying to make up for past coverage, except, of course, when innocent people are blamed, and attention is diverted from the culpability of all.

The High Court’s decision also puts the spotlight on years of effort and expense by the Victorian police and Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP). The result of their investigations is five wrongful convictions and a number of other charges thrown out at committal hearings. In total, twenty-six charges were brought by the police against Pell and all have failed.

This failure is clearly linked to the investigative methods of the police. Before allegations were made against Pell, the Victorian police took the unusual step of seeking out claims against him. When complainants came forward, allegations were not properly investigated.

In relation to the charges that were based on complainant J’s testimony, Frank Brennan identified major problems with the police investigation. For example, the police had not interviewed key witnesses about what occurred in the priests’ sacristy after interviewing Pell in Rome:

The police then had one year and eight months to review what Pell and Portelli had separately told them. They did not interview one single altar server. They did not interview one single concelebrating priest other than Portelli, who had confirmed Pell’s account. They did not interview one single money collector. They charged Pell instead.[16]

The police also did not establish a clear timeline for events, which led to the prosecution formulating numerous theories for the jury, Court of Appeal and High Court. Even more scandalously, the police interviewed no potential witnesses about the second alleged incident in St Patrick’s Cathedral.

The lack of attention to the evidence was a serious failure that was fuelled by an anti-Pell media and a pro-complainant attitude amongst police and others. Despite Pell’s defence pointing out the inconsistences of the complainant’s testimony and its implausibility with respect to the opportunity witnesses, the second jury convicted Pell (after the first jury was hung). The second jury trial occurred soon after the Prime Minister’s national apology to victims of sexual abuse and his affirmation that they would be believed. In Pell’s case, the alleged victim was believed despite the evidence.

In the Court of Appeal, Justice Weinberg forcefully pointed out the failings of the jury, police and prosecution in his extraordinary 200-page dissent to the majority decision, as did the High Court in its unanimous judgment. This failure to take account of evidence is almost certainly connected to the tainting of the jury pool, which Professor Craven pointed out after the initial convictions. This failure is even more glaring with respect to one of the overturned convictions. This conviction related to the episode when Pell was alleged to have attacked the complainant in public view, inside St Patrick’s Cathedral, when surrounded by more than fifty choristers and Pell’s entourage. The High Court concluded:

The assumption that a group of choristers, including adults, might have been so preoccupied with making their way to the robing room as to fail to notice the extraordinary sight of the Archbishop of Melbourne dressed ‘in his full regalia’ advancing through the procession and pinning a 13 year old boy to the wall, is a large one. (Paragraph 124, Pell v The Queen [2020] HCA 12).

Even the majority of the Court of Appeal seems to have been taken in by the spirit of the time by giving undue weight to the testimony of the complainant. The two majority justices set up an unsupported test of “impossibility” to weigh the complainant’s evidence and the jury’s verdict, which the High Court rejected as the incorrect standard. The High Court pointed out clear errors that the majority and the jury made with regards to evaluating the evidence, particularly of the opportunity witnesses.

For example, Keith Windschuttle shows that the appeals court majority put misplaced trust in the complainant’s testimony about the priests’ sacristy. The majority thought it convincing that the complainant identified the priests’ sacristy as the place of the first assault, since the archbishop’s sacristy was not in use at the time. Yet, it was not exceptional that the priests’ sacristy was being used by the archbishop. The majority seems to have overlooked the unchallenged testimony of witnesses that established that this was a common practice from 1992 to 1997 due to renovations.[17] Furthermore, the complainant actually identified the priests’ sacristy as unchanged when he viewed it for the police in 2016, though it had been renovated in 2003-4.

The High Court hearings and judgment also exposed the shifting and impractical timelines presented by the prosecution with respect to the alleged offences and which were accepted by the appeals court majority. Frank Brennan has forensically outlined the problems of these timelines and shown that there was no window of opportunity for the alleged offences in the priests’ sacristy to occur, based on the complainant’s evidence and the evidence of other witnesses.[18] Brennan also demonstrated how the prosecution formulated multiple, untenable theories with regards to the timeline in order to compensate for the fact that they could not make it fit with the testimony of the witnesses.

Andrew Bolt, too, questioned the timeline and traced it out personally at St Patrick’s (while recording for television). He demonstrated that it was impossible for the offences to have occurred according to the complainant’s testimony. Yet, the timeline theories of the prosecution did not even meet the low criterion of the majority of the Court of Appeal (of not being impossible), though there were clearly so.

Echoing many other commentators, the former Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, summarised the basic failure of the Court of Appeal majority:

The High Court and its seven judges all said they failed to apply the basic tenet of criminal law that every law student has drummed into them on day one at university—before you convict someone, anyone, of a criminal offence, there has to be good evidence to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.[19]

And all this comes before even mentioning the unusual similarities between the accusations against Pell and a case in Philadelphia, which Windschuttle has outlined.[20]

These factors—the media campaign and the flimsy police and prosecution case—suggest that the legal and public claims made against Pell were bordering on the irrational and incredulous. It also suggests that mob-like behaviour was influencing the prosecution and conviction of Pell.

As one of the leading theorists of violence, René Girard, has extensively shown, human societies universally and repeatedly resort to mob behaviour to resolve their tensions and crises. Girard argues that scapegoating provides a social mechanism to unify human groups with a singular desire motivated by moral outrage. Because of the propensity and utility of mob activity, it is all too easy for public discourse and criminal trials to be hijacked for the purposes of scapegoating, as the novel To Kill a Mockingbird so devastatingly shows. This is why the Anglophone justice system—which the High Court so well represented—insists on a clear standard of proof and guilt, so to avoid mob justice.

Girard, who was a Stanford professor and a member of the Académie Française, provides four markers or criteria that manifest when a scapegoating occurs. He outlines these four criteria in his book The Scapegoat (p. 24):

# A social crisis is evident. In Pell’s case, there was a crisis around the failure of numerous institutions to prevent and address the sexual abuse of children, especially within the Catholic Church, and how victims were to be given justice and healing.

# A person is accused of heinous crimes that unifies the group against them. In Pell’s case, he was accused of violent and “brazen” sexual assaults of minors.

# Certain traits, such as of vulnerability or notoriety, are associated with the accused and mark them out as different. Pell was a well-known public figure and leader in the Catholic Church, which was under great public pressure, and was negatively viewed by many for his “unsympathetic” character and conservatism.

# A climax of scapegoating occurs in the form of the exclusion or killing of the accused. Pell was wrongfully convicted and jailed.

This scapegoating hypothesis with regard to Pell’s case is further enhanced if we reflect on it in the light of Lindy Chamberlain’s experience. Chamberlain was unfairly blamed and scapegoated for the death of her daughter in unusual circumstances. Like Pell, Chamberlain was eventually exonerated after massive public and media pressure led to the quashing of her original convictions. Like Pell, Chamberlain came from a religious minority widely distrusted and disparaged in this country. Lindy was a Seventh Day Adventist and Pell, of course, a Catholic archbishop. Prejudice in some form seems to have added to the public feeling against these two wrongly convicted persons.[21]

Even more significant was the media and popular judgment of Pell and Chamberlain’s public demeanour and emotional reactions. Their demeanour was widely commented on, because they did not meet social expectations. Chamberlain was regarded as not emotional enough about the death of her daughter. Pell was similarly seen as unemotional and unsympathetic, especially to victims of abuse which the Catholic Church had so badly failed. He was also disliked for his strong defence of conservative religious, political and moral views.

Because of these popular judgements, Kel Richards remarks that Chamberlain was tried in a “poisonous” atmosphere – “hated” by those in Darwin because of her demeanour – while the media similarly poisoned the atmosphere for Pell.[22] In Pell’s case, a powerful mentality of “believing victims” – regardless of circumstances – combined with a popular dislike for his

character, beliefs and positions.

Girard argues, moreover, that those who are regarded as supporting the accused scapegoat can also be targeted. In Pell’s case, this occurred with the targeting or ostracising of those who claimed Pell had been wrongfully convicted, such as Andrew Bolt, Greg Craven and Frank Brennan. For example, Andrew Bolt was publicly and privately harassed, and his television show was campaigned against, resulting in a loss of advertisers. The federal MP Craig Kelly was howled down on Ten’s The Project for questioning the soundness of Pell’s conviction.

Some argue that Cardinal Pell deserved to be targeted by the media and police because of his association with the Catholic Church, which failed so many children, and his own failures of leadership. The unredacted sections of the Royal Commission report about Pell will add weight to this attitude. Pell has admitted he should have done more to protect children in some instances, but he denies being involved in any inappropriate movement of priests. Accusations that past leaders should have done more to protect children could and should be levelled at many people in government, churches, the media and other organisations in Australia. It is an often overlooked fact that state-run institutions had almost as many allegations against them from the private sessions of the Royal Commission (32 per cent) as the Catholic Church (36 per cent).[23] While the Church should be held fully accountable, what about these other leaders and institutions? Little is said in the media about them.

Nevertheless, it is unquestionable that the Church deserves criticism and censure for past behaviour and Pell’s failures should be scrutinised. Yet, the irrational pile-on against Pell that resulted in his wrongful conviction should not be repeated. Using him to expiate the sins of the Church is not a way forward. As Girard shows, scapegoating does not establish justice or any type of lasting peace or healing. Scapegoating obscures the truth and often allows real perpetrators to escape justice. It is worth remembering that Pell was not even named when the complainant’s mother first spoke to Broken Rites about the abuse allegations of her son. Furthermore, the pursuit of Pell has obscured the fact that he established a world-first system in 1996 to independently assess victim’s claims, remove offending priests permanently from ministry, and compensate victims of sexual abuse.

Because of what looks like a scapegoating, Cardinal Pell has spent more than a year in jail on wrongful convictions. This may have served to provide a kind of satisfaction to the mob, but it does not provide justice or healing for victims or Australian society. As Cardinal Pell stated after being released: “The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.”[24]

If the full implications of the High Court verdict were realised, Australian society would resolve to address the factors that led to Pell’s wrongful convictions. Unfortunately, the media and legal campaign against Pell continues, in an effort at self-justification that only compounds the pre-existing mob mentality. Even more importantly, the lessons of the High Court’s verdict are not being learned by those who claim to support victims. After the High Court’s acquittal of Pell, the Premier of Victoria, Dan Andrews, tweeted: “I make no comment about today’s High Court decision. But I have a message for every single victim and survivor of child sex abuse: I see you. I hear you. I believe you.”[25]

All civilised people want to believe victims of sexual abuse and see their perpetrators come to justice. However, Andrews’s comment diverts attention away from the clear rebuke to the Victorian criminal justice system made by the High Court in its unanimous acquittal of Pell. The High Court has emphasised that accusations must be properly investigated and substantiated according to the evidence. The Victorian police plainly failed to do this, and the Victorian legal system plainly failed to hold them to account. In so doing, the Victorian criminal justice system has failed complainants and victims.

Andrews’s comments also point to the sacred status that victims are given in our culture. According to Girard, the modern world is particularly sensitive to the claims of victims of all kinds, because the history of humanity’s involvement in acts of violence against scapegoats and victims has been exposed. As Bill Gates says: “Everyone knows the problem with creating scapegoats.”[26] We all now know victimisation is wrong. Yet, victims in the ancient world did not have the status that modern victims do. Only in modernity do victims have such status (which Girard argues is particularly caused by the biblical revelation). This adds special status to the allegations of those who claim to be victims.

Victims of sexual abuse are given even more weight and status than other victims because of the terrible crimes committed against them and past societal failures to protect them. In itself, this is good: victims of sexual abuse should be believed and given justice. The question, though, is: Who is truly a victim, beyond reasonable doubt?

Without the protection of “reasonable doubt”, accusations would have enormous power. As Cardinal Pell stated after his release: “It’s not a sign of a civilisation where you have guilt by accusation.”[27] And we should be especially careful because Girard warns that the claims of victims have such a sacred status in our culture. Because of this status, accusations can be used to target those claimed to be “victimisers”, even with little plausibility to the claims against them. This has occurred in Cardinal Pell’s case: he has been targeted and wrongfully convicted, all in the name of those he allegedly victimised. We must now face the prospect that Pell was scapegoated because of the attitude that “victims” are sacred and must be believed, no matter what. Despite its good intentions, this attitude can cause injustice.

Pell’s case is a salutary lesson in the criminal prosecution of those accused of sexual abuse or assault. As Pell stated after his release: “It’s not a sign of a civilisation where you have guilt by accusation.”[28] The pendulum seems to have swung too far. Previously victims were hardly believed, but there is now great pressure to believe allegations, even when there is copious counter-evidence. Such credulity will not ultimately help to gain proper convictions and justice for victims.

If the attitudes and discourse on these matters don’t change in Australia, it will result in more scapegoats being created and more convictions being overturned. The required change doesn’t mean giving up on victims, but rather, supporting them better by ensuring their claims are properly and respectfully investigated. If this doesn’t happen, and if we don’t learn the lessons of Pell’s wrongful conviction, it will tragically add to so many wrongs already committed.Claims must be sensitively and rigorously investigated for convictions to stand. The justice system is purposefully balanced in such a way as to protect citizens from being wrongly convicted and jailed by the state. Being afforded a fair investigation and a robust sense of “reasonable doubt” is a right that protects us all from injustice. In Pell’s case, this right was not upheld, which the highest court in Australia had to finally establish.

Joel Hodge is a Senior Lecturer in Theology at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. He is the author of Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor and Violence in the Name of God: The Militant Jihadist Response to Modernity.

Between the Lines: Decoding Witness ‘J’

Peter West

In a long interview with Sky News after Cardinal Pell’s acquittal by the High Court, Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who had always expressed skepticism of the original verdict, went over the reasons for the paramount decision. But right at the end, he added

…And let’s, above all, spare our thoughts for Mister J. He gave a very moving statement there yesterday about getting on with his life, but knowing that there are dark periods…

Fr Brennan also waxed about the great psychological burden heaped on J by the incompetence of the police and DPP in pursuing a case so ludicrously improbable it should never have been investigated in the first place. This was a convenient, if unsupportable, way of maintaining the socially mandated “believe the victim” stance whilst simultaneously finding third parties on which to sheet home blame for the fiasco. He wasn’t alone in giving J a pass. Chris Kenny made similar comments, while the ABC reported the following from Archbishop Comsoli, who was “relieved” the legal system finally acquitted Cardinal Pell. “But at the same time,” he continued, “… my heart went out to J and his family.”

Nor was he alone. Archbishop Mark Coleridge, issued a statement on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. It included:

Today’s outcome will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the Cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process. We also recognise that the High Court’s decision will be devastating for others.

Many have suffered greatly through the process…

Archbishop Coleridge finds many who have suffered as a result of the trial, the second trial, the first appeal and the final appeal. I also find many who suffered, but the one who suffered most of all was Cardinal George Pell.

The bishops and Father Brennan were not alone in praising ‘J’ for his “moving statement.” Clearly, that statement needs to be interpreted for the innocent of heart and the naïve. Here it is, with comments by [this writer] exploring the subtext.

Here are excerpts, with comments

I respect the decision of the High Court. I accept the outcome.

[because it can’t be taken any further.]

I understand their view that there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court beyond all reasonable doubt that the offending occurred. I understand that the High Court is saying that the prosecution did not make out the case to the required standards of proof

[Pell did it, but they just couldn’t nail him.]

It is difficult in child sexual abuse matters to satisfy a criminal court that the offending has occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is a very high standard to meet — a heavy burden. I understand why criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

[Marvel at J as he defends the criminal justice system that ultimately let him down. The courts must be free to make mistakes, he says, even if a guilty man gets off. Admire him for acknowledging as much, even to his detriment.]

No-one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due and proper process.
This is a basic civil liberty. But the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.

[The selflessness is being laid on with a trowel.]

That’s why it remains important that everyone who can report to the police does so. I would hate to think that one outcome of this case is that people are discouraged from reporting to the police.

[Think of the poor lawyers missing out on all that work and their cut of the settlements.]

I would like to reassure child sexual abuse survivors that most people recognise the truth when they hear it.

[Unfortunately for J, the High Court, not being ‘most people’, recognises falsehoods and impossibilities.]

They know the truth when they look it in the face. I am content with that….

And so J’s statement goes on (and on and on).

The simple reality is that anonymous J made up the story about Cardinal Pell. That he is a liar can be said now, thanks to the High Court, but this recognition of a fabulist has been strangely missing from all of the public commentary I have read. J’s first statement, after Pell’s original conviction, and second, after the failure of his appeal in Victoria, as well as this most recent one, must all be read with Cardinal Pell’s innocence in mind. In that light they can be seen as masterpieces of deceit and misdirection.

Witness J’s lawyer is Vivian Waller. According to her bio at Waller Legal (motto: ‘In pursuit of justice’), Dr Waller has a PhD from Melbourne in “civil claims for compensation for childhood sexual assault.”

J’s second statement has this:

I have not instructed any solicitor in relation to a claim for compensation. This is not about money and never has been.

Well, given J’s proclaimed integrity, we can cross that motive off the list. I guess it is just one of those mysteries. Yet despite insistence that money was never a motivation, there are conclusions we can reach, and then there are unnecessary speculations that are gross overreach. Fr Brennan’s comments, cited above, continue

…and my regret is, those dark periods – sure, in the first instance they came because of some dreadful priest who abused him out in the suburbs or whatever, and I’m a Catholic priest, and I have to bear some responsibility for that.

Who is this priest, as anonymous as J himself? He is conjured into existence in another attempt to reconcile the innocence of Cardinal Pell with the ineluctable necessity to “believe the victim.” J cannot be believed in respect of Cardinal Pell, so “some dreadful priest” is invented. It is reasonable to assume that, if this suburban monster actually existed, J would have identified him, would he not? He was, after all, so very definite about the circumstances of the Cardinal’s purported predation, including the location, the timing (with the help of a little VicPol coaching), the robes of the bishop (more or less), and so forth.

J’s paean to his deceased mate was even more expansive in his second statement, after the dismissal of the Victorian appeal.

After attending the funeral of my childhood friend, the other choirboy, I felt a responsibility to come forward. I knew he had been in a dark place. I was in a dark place. I gave a statement to the police because I was thinking of him and his family.

The idea of going to the police came to J, not during the inevitable long decline of his heroin-addicted friend, when a valid complaint may have been helpful, but at the friend’s funeral. Imagine that! Dead men tell no tales, but they can be recruited into a lie with no risk of being tripped up by differences in the telling and the whole thing coming apart under cross-examination. To do such a thing — drawing a dead friend into an edifice of perjury — could only be the action of a man devoid of any concern for the suffering of others, especially for the dead man’s family, whose sense of outrage could be readily manipulated. And most especially of the man enmeshed in that web of lies, with his career, financial security and reputation in ruins.

J lied. He maintained those lies, and he retailed those lies under oath with vigour and conviction. This is not some rare phenomenon. We all have encountered and will encounter talented liars and been taken in by them. But now that the truth about the allegations has been laid bare by the High Court, there is no excuse for continuing to excuse J, if for no other reason than that by doing so Cardinal Pell is implicitly, in the eyes of those lacking Fr Brennan’s Jesuitical sophistication, condemned as a paedophile who has escaped justice.

There has been one outstanding victim in all of this: Cardinal Pell. Meanwhile, having tied up the courts for years and wreaked chaos across the social and religious landscape of Australia, J continues to hide behind the suppression of his identity; to hide behind his lawyer; to hide behind his family. Come on out, J. Break cover. Show yourself. Let your millions of fans get to know you, know the things you’ve done, the people with whom you’ve interacted.

Cardinal Pell had a place to hide but chose to return home from the Vatican, trusting, unwisely, to his day in court. Trusting, unwisely, in the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal. Trusting, finally and triumphantly, in the High Court.

Now it’s your turn, J, if you are man enough to take it. Come out to your public. Maybe Tim Minchin will even write a song about it.

The Social Media Witch-Hunt for George Pell

The Social Media Witch-Hunt for George Pell

Chris S. Friel

Vivian Waller is the principal lawyer at Waller Legal, a Melbourne-based firm she set up in 2007 that specialises in winning compensation for historic cases of sexual abuse against the Catholic Church. In 2018 Waller represented the complainant in a case that led to the imprisonment of Cardinal George Pell.

To my knowledge, Waller does not tweet under her own name but the Twitter handle @LyndsayFarlow champions her in many ways. It is true the nom de plume “Lyndsay Farlow” is not solely concerned to speak for Waller, but the common concerns are clear enough (which in turn are also shared by victims’ advocacy groups such as Broken Rites). These need to be highlighted especially given the revelations about Operation Tethering.

Set up in 2013 by Victoria Police, Operation Tethering became publicly known five years later when, at Pell’s committal, Detective Superintendent Paul Sheridan admitted Pell had been identified as a target long before any complaints were received from purported victims. Defence counsel Robert Richter QC understandably characterised the trawling expedition as “Get Pell.” Presumably the staff for this operation overlapped considerably with that of Taskforce Sano, set up on November 30, 2012, which was created in the wake of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse. Sano would later feed into the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse that Julia Gillard set up on November 12, 2012. Given its focus on Melbourne and Ballarat, we may wonder whether Gillard was putting in place a “Get Pell” commission.

Farlow (of course) never mentions Tethering, but the Twitter feed shows an interest in Sano from its inception. Thus the hashtag #TFSano yields 11 tweets, all from Farlow dating from February 2013;[1] #SanoTF yields three tweets, again all from Farlow.[2] The only other handle showing comparable interest is that of “survivors” group @Clan_Au with whom Farlow also came to be associated – though not as closely as with Broken Rites. Farlow follows all the key steps, reporting from the early months of 2013 when Sano/Tethering began its work,[3] noting the police call for information about abuse in Melbourne Cathedral in December 2015,[4] and (when it was leaked in February 2016) the fact that police were investigating Pell.[5] Farlow also reports when, after Louise Milligan’s ABC programme in July 2016, the police first publicly acknowledge their investigation.[6] After Pell had been convicted, Farlow somehow manages to ‘like’ a Walleresque tweet[7] from the head of Sano Doug Smith – no mean feat given that Smith, who only started tweeting in March 2019, has just four tweets (replies) and just eight followers!

What of Farlow’s apparent closeness to Waller?

In general we note how Farlow’s legal eye shows an interest in the case numbers of sexual abuse charges and the legal firms associated with Waller: Slater and Gordon in 88 tweets,[8] Maurice Blackburn in 16.[9] However, in particular, we can note how Farlow picks up on convicted pedophile Robert Best: three dozen tweets over five years.[10] Thus, Farlow covers the story of the Christian Brother convicted of sex abuse in 2012,[11] and later provides an interview with the person who was raped in 2014.[12] This is highly significant given that Waller gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry to the effect that Best’s victim (represented by Waller) complained that Pell was then present[13]. Pell would contest this falsehood, demonstrating that he was never there at the time. [14]

Then there is Waller’s particular expertise stemming from her doctoral research regarding the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse,[15] her “particular passion” as she put it in an interview.[16] Farlow has tweeted on this topic on 36 occasions, especially in 2012.[17] We also observe themes from Waller’s very practical doctoral research, such as child sexual abuse as a cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: a score of tweets with #PTSD since 2011.[18] This theme of the long-term effects of the trauma of sex abuse was the topic of Doug Smith’s reply on March 9, 2019, mentioned above.

Finally we note the alacrity in spotting a reference to Waller even when her name was spelt “Vivien” (and there are only three instances in the whole of Twitter). We found a ‘like’ in which the lawyer is praised by an interviewer.[19] Perhaps most fulsome is a long thread of 21 tweets on December 8, 2017, expounding Waller’s legal technicalities in the Ridsdale case.[20]

We cannot say that Farlow is Waller, for in 2015 we have also noted a misspelling, Vivienne. Perhaps Farlow is a team. I count about 50 tweets in the first three months since Farlow started tweeting in 2009, but the grand total now indicates an average of over 100 a day. Also, it does not appear that Farlow was associated with Waller from the first, this link emerging from the time of Sano/Tethering. Rather, Farlow’s earlier connections appear journalistic, for example, 50 mentions of David Marr from 2010. Just how Farlow came to champion Waller is unclear. Still, this lack of transparency deserves scrutiny.

We will concentrate on Farlow’s tweets at the time when Pell’s complainant “J” went to the police, June 2015. At that time a witch-hunt was underway: just one month earlier, The Age had to apologise for a Die Pell post that appeared on its Facebook page. Whilst we have no evidence of any connection with Farlow, the tenor of Farlow’s tweets are equally disturbing.

The Twitter feed is pockmarked by insults and scurrilous cartoons. Pell is egocentric,[21] has no nous,[22] lacks self-awareness,[23] he crushes victims,[24] threatens them, ignores their pain,[25] and “may” have been involved in Australia’s worst cover-up. Farlow even seems to condone defamation, faulting Pell for over-sensitivity when he has recourse to law against the ABC who refer to him as a sociopath.[26]

And on the day before the June 2015 complaint was made we can contemplate a cartoon in which a crozier hooks the “untouchable” Pell, compelling the Cardinal to come home. [27]

Even ecology becomes a weapon. On the day the complainant went to the police Farlow tells us that Pell must be feeling awkward. [28] At that time Pope Francis had published Laudato Si’, and so with the twitter feed’s solitary reference to the encyclical we learn that the Cardinal is an enemy of the Pope.[29]

Overarching these barbs, is Pell’s performance in the Royal Commission, Farlow’s concern since its conception in 2012. Here the special interest is redress – an issue not absent from Waller Legal’s website, or indeed, of that of Broken Rites. Compensation should never be capped, as per Pell’s Melbourne Response. Pell is personally characterised as being solely interested in money.[30] Indeed, he “strategically conspired to destroy John Ellis.”[31] Farlow erupts: Pell “Lied under oath. Shame. Shame. Shame.”[32]

Such was the social media hate campaign conducted against Cardinal Pell. Within this context we find a tweet highly suggestive of the febrile mentality and just three weeks before the complainant went to the police. Farlow had often (though not recently) mentioned Rolling Stone, and on May 28, 2015, tweeted a link to an article by Sabrina Erdely about Billy Doe, an altar boy whose lurid testimony convicted more than one priest in Philadelphia.[33] Erdely’s message is very aptly summed up by Farlow’s hashtag: #AllRoadsLeadToRome. The subtext was this is what priests get up to. This is what Rome covers up.

The trouble for Farlow, though, was that Billy Doe turned out to be a fabricator. In 2016 Ralph Cipriano would show in Newsweek how this ludicrous case managed to hoodwink a jury. It’s difficult to imagine that Waller would not have known about this case, one that ought to have set alarm bells ringing.

There is, however, yet another coincidence that may set further alarm bells ringing, for that same morning Farlow had been communicating with the ABC’s Louise Milligan.[34] Obviously, the pair were not discussing Pell, rather, some technical difficulties of loading a video (and the pair will not communicate again until the story of Billy Doe resurfaces as a possible source for the lurid testimony against Pell). It would be nine months later when Milligan would “reluctantly” start work on the Pell allegations, getting a tip about “J” or “the “Kid”, as she calls him, whom she would endorse (just after Sano’s Doug Smith had retired, incidentally). She would be the first to provide detail on the allegations, eventually publishing her award-winning Cardinal in 2017.

We wonder, then, about the covert attempts to undermine Pell. The indications from the open sources are that the lawyers standing to benefit from Pell’s conviction or those closely associated have attempted to tether him, not only by a Get Pell police operation but by a witch-hunt in social media. These indications, I suggest, warrant a closer scrutiny of the network I have highlighted.

Chris S. Friel is a philosopher and theologian who publishes on Academia from Cardiff, Wales. His work is at https://chrisfriel.academia.edu

[1] https://twitter.com/search?l=&q=%23TFSano%20from%3ALyndsayFarlow&src=typd&lang=en-gb

[2] https://twitter.com/search?l=&q=%23sanoTF%20from%3ALyndsayFarlow&src=typd&lang=en-gb

[3] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/299693710487199744

[4] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/679500566461046785

[5] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/701724290282950657

[6] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/758248922288492545

[7] https://twitter.com/dougsmi65335393/status/1104585951404220417

[8] https://twitter.com/search?l=&q=%22maurice%20blackburn%22%20from%3Alyndsayfarlow&src=typd&lang=en-gb

[9] https://twitter.com/search?l=&q=slater%20gordon%20from%3ALyndsayFarlow&src=typd&lang=en-gb

[10] https://twitter.com/search?l=&q=%22robert%20best%22%20from%3Alyndsayfarlow&src=typd&lang=en-gb

[11] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/256131847594065920

[12] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/477401577381064704

[13] https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/sins-of-brothers-demand-inquiry-20110808-1ij3b.html

[14] https://www.heraldsun.com.au/blogs/andrew-bolt/saying-sorry-to-pell-now–the-damage-is-done-twice-over/news-story/e6a5d2a61b4812a2ca80cda0d9effd6e. For a letter to the inquiry from Katrina Lee, speaking for Pell see: https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Right_of_Reply/Right_of_Reply_Archdiocese_of_Sydney.pdf

[15] https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/31335356?q=creator%3A%22Waller%2C+Vivian.%22&c=book&versionId=38005478

[16] http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/VicYngLawyersJl/2012/2.pdf

[17] https://twitter.com/search?l=&q=%22statute%20of%20limitations%22%20from%3Alyndsayfarlow&src=typd&lang=en-gb&lang=en-gb. Perhaps the interest in the topic falls off as states scrapped statute of limitations as Farlow notes: https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/699415082527162369.

[18] https://twitter.com/search?l=&q=%23ptsd%20from%3Alyndsayfarlow&src=typd&lang=en-gb

[19] https://twitter.com/oldlillipilli/status/1105739511252684800

[20] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/939352239319146496

[21] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/607533951297527809

[22] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/607533229818527746

[23] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/604835195850661888

[24] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/608509751979180032

[25] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/605249175026950144

[26] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/607519916791459842 Here see: https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/george-pell-seeks-apology-from-peter-saunders-over-60-minutes-interview/news-story/3c0163725935ca6dae6f2a16d6777037

[27] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/611355175995899904 See also: https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/601305794798166016

[28] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/611759382976720896

[29] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/605203676999741442

[30] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/606707808440975361

[31] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/607524133694369792

[32] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/600065025038888960

[33] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/604128645133688832

[34] https://twitter.com/LyndsayFarlow/status/603924387104960513 Show your support Donate Now

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Nihilism and National Security

Mervyn Bendle

A spectre is haunting Western societies, and it’s not just Chinese imperialism. It’s the spectre of Nihilism, permeating every corner of our intellectual and moral culture, and critically weakening our capacity to defend ourselves. At a time when sharply increasing international tensions are prompting an unprecedented increase in defence spending to counter external threats, it’s essential that the corresponding internal threats be addressed as well.

The ultimate destination of Nihilism is civilisational collapse, a cultural and political abyss into which America is now gazing, and we may follow. As Gerard Baker laments in the Wall Street Journal:

Much of the country’s political leadership, almost its entire academic establishment, most of the people who control its news and cultural output, and a good deal of its corporate elite view the US as an irredeemably malignant force for enslavement and oppression, a uniquely evil power founded on an ideology of racial supremacy. These Jacobins demand that Americans repudiate most of the nation’s history, tear down the icons of its creation and engage in a collective cultural expurgation of its sins.

Nihilism can be defined as the ideological position that all prevailing values, beliefs, systems of knowledge, conventions, and institutions are without rational, ethical, or philosophical foundation, lack any legitimacy and are systematically oppressive. For nearly two centuries, Nihilism has been associated with the radical intelligentsia and masses of alienated and under-occupied university students, other young people, and the disaffected masses generally. Historically, it has been exploited by those seeking to destabilize or overthrow existing political and social structures, with the best examples being the success of the Nazi Party in attracting millions into the Hitler Youth movement with its delirious book-burnings, and Mao Zedong’s mobilization of millions of young Red Guards in an iconoclastic Cultural Revolution that obliterated much of China’s cultural heritage.

These masses constitute the cannon-fodder of ‘the Revolution’, and characteristically they identify fanatically with some favoured ‘victim group’ for whom they proclaim a virtually infinite sympathy. However, the crucial point here is that the actual lives and living conditions of these groups don’t primarily concern the agitators – in fact, these groups serve mainly as a proxy for the agitators own ill-defined grievances and self-regard. Totally immersed in an intoxicating mood of outraged morality these foot-soldiers are oblivious to the real-world needs of those they purport to champion. Meanwhile, they are utterly dismissive of their critics (who point this out), and contemptuous of their opponents, viewing any concessions that are made to their cause as signs of weakness, encouraging further demands and assaults.

What is its history? Nihilism emerged as a coherent ideology in Imperial Russia, and the parallels between past and present are striking. It drew its devotees from the masses of young people who had been enticed into higher learning by educational reforms implemented under Tsar Alexander II. These expanded university education for the children of the middle classes and the lesser nobility but couldn’t guarantee suitable employment opportunities for graduates. These masses congregated in the university cities, such as St Petersburg, Moscow, and Kazan, and where a vigorous counter-culture thrived amidst economic upheaval and moral squalor.

As Nihilists, they cultivated a very specific attitude and image. This involved ostentatious moral posturing and virtue signalling, and included deliberately defying the older generations, authority and convention, while cultivating abrasive attitudes, manners, style, behaviour and dress, including unconventional clothing, long hair for men and short hair for women, blue-tinted glasses, communal living, sexual and class equality, and free love, polygamy, etc. They presented themselves as ‘New People’ implementing a new morality.

They affected to live an ascetic life close to their chosen victim group, ‘the people’, and especially the serfs, whom they fervently believed led a truly authentic and genuine existence. All this fell apart after an abortive campaign of ‘going to the people’ to offer them ‘liberation’. Out in the villages they discovered that the people held them and their ideas in contempt and violently rejected their criticism of the Church and the Tsar. Crushed by this collision of their moral fantasies with reality, their alienation deepened profoundly, they rejected liberalism, and gravitated instead to various forms of political extremism, e.g., Anarchism, Marxism, and Terrorism.

This phenomenon was documented by Ivan Turgenev in his famous 1862 novel Fathers and Sons, which also popularized the name ‘Nihilist’. Turgenev wrote in response to the cultural schism that he saw developing between the older liberals like Alexander Herzen and the new Nihilist radicalism, which ridiculed the meagre achievements of their elders. Yevgeny Bazarov, the main character of the novel, was an utterly idealistic and uncompromising Nihilist. He has been referred to as the ‘First Bolshevik’, for his Nihilism, fierce commitment to ‘the Cause’, and rejection of the old order.

Another novel gave vivid expression to this iconoclastic radicalism: What is to be Done? (1863) by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Subtitled ‘Stories about the new men and women’ it described in agonizing didactic detail a new type of person – one totally committed to political and moral revolution and prepared to do whatever it took to achieve the revolutionary overthrow of society. Widely regarded as one of the worst novels ever written, it famously made more converts to the cause of revolution than any other work.  Lenin, for example, was profoundly influenced by it and later named one of his own most important revolutionary works What is to be Done?

Inevitably, some alienated youth was going to put these ideas into practice. Consequently, in 1866, Dmitrii Karakozov, a member of a St Petersburg terrorist group called ‘Hell’ attempted to assassinate Alexander II. He was quickly caught, tried and hanged. However, he implicated many other conspirators, some of whom were executed while dozens more were exiled for life in Siberia (where they often shot themselves). Alexander’s liberal policies included freeing the serfs, but this counted for nothing to the Nihilists and in 1881 he was finally assassinated by members of Narodnaya Volya (‘People’s Will’).

Another influential Nihilist was the sinister Sergei Nechaev, who became notorious for his advocacy of the amoral, ruthless and single-minded pursuit of revolution by any means necessary, including every form of deceit and manipulation, extreme political violence and brutal murder. His views were expressed in the infamous Catechism of a Revolutionary, a manifesto of Nihilism, promoting the “merciless destruction” of society and the state. Many would-be revolutionaries were impressed by Nechaev and sought to join his organization. One of these was a certain I. I. Ivanov. Unfortunately for him, he came to disagree with Nechaev and tried to leave the group. Consequently, in November 1869, Nechaev and several others lured Ivanov to a park where Nechaev beat, strangled, and shot Ivanov before dumping his body in a lake through a hole in the ice.

The Catechism was adopted by various radical groups over the years, e.g., the Black Panthers in the Sixties, whose leader Eldridge Cleaver adopted it as a “Revolutionary Bible”, declaring that it prompted him to adopt “tactics of ruthlessness in my dealings with everyone with whom I came into contact”. It still remains influential amongst political extremists, terrorists, and contemporary Anarchists and Neo-Marxists, including those presently involved in manipulating the current far-left BLM protests.

This connection was recently pointed out a former FBI counter-terrorism director on The Outsiders television program: “Much of the BLM program is lifted from the Black Panther Party and Weather Underground movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s.” These were Marxist-Leninist militant and terrorist groups that were seeking nothing less than “the total transformation of the United States government”, and were seeking to exploit “those situations where there is a tinderbox and light the country on fire.” (“Some lives matter more”, The Daily Telegraph, 7/7)

As these remarks confirm, Nihilism tends always to extremism, often ruining the prospects of their chosen victim groups, and usually culminating in violence. It also literally suffocates Liberal Democratic tendencies, as Russia found out in 1917. Therefore, the lesson to be drawn from history is simple: it must be met with uncompromising resistance.

Contemporary Nihilism is presently manifested in the mindless iconoclasm of the ‘cancel culture’, exemplified by its wilful and irresponsible street demonstrations in the presence of a pandemic, its ruthless destruction of reputations, vandalism of historical monuments and artefacts, along with the denunciation of Western Civilization, liberal democracy, capitalism, nationalism, ‘white people’, their history and everything to do with any of them.

It’s also evident in our universities. There, tenured academics elaborate and promote this Nihilistic agenda, while leaving its practical political implementation to the contemporary versions of the Hitler Youth and the Red Guards who dominate the streets.

Ominously, Nihilism has also infected many of our leaders, who fail vigorously to denounce this iconoclastic onslaught. Judged by their silence, the political class, academia, the media, and key social and cultural institutions are complicit in this ‘cancellation’ of our society. They may be motivated by some combination of cowardice, ignorance, ideology, and opportunism, or they may even have capitulated to the cancel culture and agree that both they and our society do indeed lack all legitimacy and should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Certainly, too many seem only too eager to concede the Nihilist case, with many getting down on their knees, or crawling off to make grovelling apologies over a never-ending stream of alleged wrongs, auditing the historical monuments of our cities to identify those that might conceivably cause ‘offence’, conniving with the police and justice system to allow these assaults to proceed with only the minimum of restraint or sanctions, if any, and generally cooperating with the radical blitzkrieg on the fundamental structures of the very society they purport to lead. Tragically, they seem oblivious to the corrosive effect this never-ending campaign of un-answered denigration and self-hatred has on the morale and cohesion of our society.

This is now a vital issue, given the sudden worsening international military situation, spearheaded by blatant Chinese aggression. As Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pointed out, “our region will not only shape our future … it is the focus of the dominant global contest of our age.” Moreover, it faces an “almost irreversible strain” that demands a radically revamped defence strategy. (“Australia’s best defence is a good offence as China flexes muscles in region”, The Australian, 4/7). Because the military threat now operates in a number of dimensions, the government has directed the defence establishment to develop enhanced capabilities across five areas: air, maritime, land, space, information, and cyber. This involves significantly expanding the foundations of Australia’s defence structure, funded by a total estimated expenditure over the next decade of $575 billion, including $270 billion on new hardware.

To drive home the nature and scale of the threat, Morrison has repeatedly invoked the situation in Europe in the early 1930s. Then, two earlier totalitarian regimes, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, were making clear their ambitions for world domination and were preparing for war, while the world’s democracies were struggling with the Great Depression and committed to appeasement. As the Prime Minister said: “The 1930s is something I have been revisiting on a very regular basis, and when you connect both the economic challenge and the global uncertainty it can be very haunting.”

Very haunting indeed, but what Morrison did not explicitly address were the powerful cultural and ideological forces that were at the centre of this earlier explosive situation as it built up. The most active were the extremists of left and right: the communist and the fascists, and their sympathizers. All of these fed off the pervasive Nihilism of that dreadful era, as Hermann Rauschning pointed out in The Revolution of Nihilism (1938). The least prominent were the moderates at the centre, and this was because the legitimacy of Liberal Democracy had been undermined by the catastrophe of the Great War, the misery of the Great Depression and, above all, by a propaganda onslaught led by the Comintern and its innumerable fellow-travellers amongst the political, intellectual, and cultural elites in the Western democracies. With very few exceptions (e.g., Churchill) all of these had fallen victim to the Nihilistic evaluation of Liberal Democracy and worked frantically to reinforce the air of cultural despair and defeatism.

This then is the diabolical situation Australia faces. On one hand we have the increasingly ominous external military threat represented by Chinese imperialism augmented by their ownership and control of key corporate, academic and infrastructural elements within the commanding heights of our society. On the other hand we have the omnipresent internal threat of intellectual and cultural Nihilism, which is being exploited and coordinated as a political force by this Fifth Column in the interests of our external enemy.

Their aim is to trap our society in a pincer movement, assailed by external and internal forces, in which we will soon be thrashing about pathetically, rendered impotent by self-doubt and self-hatred, as our sovereignty is stripped away and we are reduced to a cowed and subordinate status, much as the CCP is seeking to do in Hong Kong.

And so, if the government can find $575 billion to spend on defence, then surely it can apply some significant resources to winning the cultural battle. Otherwise, it seems that Lee Kuan Yew’s prophecy that Australians would become the ‘poor white trash of Asia’ will come true.

The Unrecognised Gift of Good Fathering

John Anderson

Until the day I left home to get married, I’d hear my father occasionally yell out in the dead of night, “get down, you fool! Get down!” He was reliving the first light of dawn of the second morning of the Battle of El Alamein, Montgomery’s great push back against Rommel in North Africa. It was one of only two major battles that Australia was involved in during World War II and the first major setback for Nazi Germany at the hands of the Allies.

Dad had insisted on surrendering his officer’s commission in the Light Horse at the beginning of the war so that he could fight ‘in the ranks’, and had been promoted to Acting Sergeant and placed in control of three anti-tank guns and their crews in the 2/3rd Anti Tank unit of the famous 9th Division.

On that fateful morning, having advanced 100 metres overnight, they saw the German tank at the same time as it saw them in the first rays of light, and it was very close indeed.

The Panzer opened fire. Shells started exploding all-round, shrapnel and dirt and noise and chaos and terror reigned — it must have been horrific — and a young soldier next to Dad panicked and leapt out of the inadequate trench. My father jumped up to pull him down and they were both hit badly.

A mate found the tattered remains of my father’s shirt that evening when the battle died down. He and a couple of others went to the big field hospital hoping to find him, only to be told that he was in a coma in an oxygen tent and “he won’t see the night out.”

Somehow he did — he was a very strong man — and was brought back to the family property to recuperate, only returning to light duties at the end of the war. He was in very bad shape personally. Today we would not only recognise the impact of such trauma but we would do something about it too. His body, and mind, bore deep scars for the rest of his life.

There was endless army banter when Dad was with other returned personnel, but he never spoke of his own nightmare, even though he evidently re-lived it frequently. I have only been able to piece together what really happened from others, over many years.

It meant, though, that I grew up in the shadow of the horror of war. It gave me a detestation of armed conflict. I even dislike violence in films. However, I’ve also developed a deep conviction that, as the old Chinese proverb has it, ‘if you wish for peace, you must prepare for war.’

Australia had not prepared for the conflict that was so obviously boiling in the 1930s, unlike the extraordinary foresight the founding fathers of the new Federation had displayed prior to 1914. That generation was able to secure the south-west Pacific with its powerful new navy in very quick order, and then go on to play a vital role in the whole dreadful conflict.

I was always conscious that Dad was seen as something of a hero, and yet his actions spoke louder than words in having volunteered for service in May 1940, following Dunkirk, as he would never boast of his exploits — ever. The closest he ever went to it was to note with quite an edge, even a bitterness, to his voice as I left for Canberra as a young, newly-minted MP that I should never be naive when Australian soldiers were being eulogised, as he’d seen plenty of poor as well as noble behaviour in the heat of battle. I guess he’d earned the right to make that call.

Unfortunately for Dad, he was to face yet more trials. Having finally settled down enough after the terrible disruptions to both of their lives caused by the war, my father and mother married a full decade after the time that their friends reckoned they might otherwise have done. They had two children, me and my sister, soon after, but my mother then died of cancer in 1960, after just six years of married life.

Even then, Dad’s resilience pulled him through — but the loss of my sister in a game of family cricket when she was a young teenager really did throw him. The sadness became very deep. A father given more than ever to his own thoughts became less available to me, and I found it hard not to be critical of the relief he often sought from endless cigarettes and a pretty solid liking for rum.

Like so many children, often encouraged by the emergence of the culture of victimhood that is part and parcel perhaps of our desire to blame others and which is now raging like an out of control bushfire, I started to focus on his failings rather than his qualities. To my shame, I became unfairly critical of him.

Then an unexpected encounter caused me to slowly but surely start to pull back and look at the whole canvas, the ‘bigger picture’.

Sitting at my desk in the Deputy Prime Minister’s office one day, I was handed an extraordinary letter that my staff realised I’d need to respond to personally. It was neatly handwritten, on quality paper:     

Dear Mr Anderson,
I believe you were my first baptismal candidate. If my memory serves me correctly, your parents were country people. They were down from the bush in Easter 1957 staying at a cottage at Newport Beach. I had just been ordained and the Vicar who was going to take the baptism had taken ill, and I was sent off at short notice and I met this country family.  I baptised the boy — I believe it was you — and committed to praying for him for the rest of my life…

Yours sincerely,
Len Abbott.”

I was very keen to meet Len. I invited him to dinner at Parliament House, and we had an extraordinary evening. He talked of my mother and father, both of whom were capable of lighting up a room, and asked me to map out my life in detail — he was a great listener.

Then he said something that really struck me — indeed it was quite an epiphany. He said, simply, ‘I so admire that generation of men’.

I asked him to elaborate and he showed me what I hadn’t seen.

“Look at his circumstances. Out in the bush. Suddenly left without his wife. Yet another major life setback, after such a terrible war. Two very small children to look after, and no obvious way to do it while trying to run a demanding farm business,” he began.

“Many fathers would have fostered their children out, thinking not only of the practicalities but also not believing they could do it properly, but your father stuck to it and found ways to keep you with him.”

The idea that Dad might not have kept us with him led me slowly to feel relieved, then delighted, then thankful, that he had. How unattractive the alternatives might have been. And how powerful, once seen, is the knowledge of genuine commitment and love in smothering out the petty grievances and the misunderstandings! Love indeed covers a multitude of sins.

I now see the larger canvas. My father really did love me and provided a safe place for my sister and me to grow up, both physically and emotionally, despite the challenges.  That was foundational for me as a man. He gave me the keys to live well both personally and professionally; others must judge how well I used them.

I now realise that the criticisms that I made of him were me, in some part, feeling overshadowed by his capabilities, from his fast bowling to his quick humour. He might have been the very man spoken of as a soldier by what General Montgomery called, “the magnificent 9th.” Even Rommel called them, “immensely big and powerful men, who without question represented an elite formation of the British Empire, a fact that was also evident in battle.”

How could I compete with that? The answer: I couldn’t – and can’t. But I can give a word of thanks to God for him. And if I didn’t then, let me acknowledge my thanks to my Dad here. He could have outwardly played the victim, but he didn’t. He would have been dismayed by the modern phenomenon of victimhood culture. Despite being the victim of events beyond his control — a madman burning down civilisation in Europe, the death of his wife, then his daughter — he held high his principles of duty and sacrifice.

Since Len came to see me, and helped me see what my Dad did for me, I’ve become a committed advocate for fathering. George Bush Sr., when he was first faced with a rioting America following the death of Rodney King, knew part of what the Western world needs now is good fathers. Bush said that Americans had spent perhaps $3 trillion to that point in time on programs for welfare, drugs and urban violence, but had nothing to show for it. The answer could be right in front of us. As Professor Bruce Robinson from the Fathering Project has explained to me, one of the greatest predictors of how well we turn out as people, and how society turns out, is the presence of decent fathering. 

We need to end the silence on this. If we really care about our children, and our boys in particular, (the prison statistics alone tell us how serious their crisis is) we would own a simple truth whether convenient or not and start talking about the critical importance of fathering. 

John Anderson served as Australia’s 11th Deputy Prime Minister. He now interviews an array of thought leaders for his Conversations video podcast; available via johnanderson.net.au, YoutTube or audio podcast platforms.  He is a patron of The Fathering Project

The Life and Times of Henry Lawson

 Portrait of Lawson by John Longstaff, 1900, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Waratah And Wattle

Though poor and in trouble I wander alone,
With rebel cockade in my hat,
Though friends may desert me, and kindred disown,
My country will never do that!
You may sing of the Shamrock, the Thistle, the rose,
Or the three in a bunch, if you will;
But I know of a country that gathered all those,
And I love the great land where the Waratah grows.
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.

Australia! Australia! so fair to behold-
While the blue sky is arching above;
The stranger should never have need to be told,
That the Wattle-bloom means that her heart is of gold.
And the Waratah’s red with her love.

Australia! Australia! most beautiful name,
Most kindly and bountiful land;
I would die every death that might save her from shame,
If a black cloud should rise on the stand;
But whatever the quarrel, whoever her foes,
Let them come! Let them come when they will!
Though the struggle be grim, ’tis Australia that knows
That her children shall fight while the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle blooms out on the hill.

It surely cannot be too soon, and never is too late,
It tones with all Australia’s tune to praise one’s native State,
And so I bring an old refrain from days of posts and rails,
And lift the good old words again, for Sunny New South Wales.
She bore me on her tented fields, and wore my youth away,
And little gold of all she yields repays my toil to-day;
By track and camp and bushman’s hut-by streets where courage fails-
I’ve sung for all Australia, but my heart’s in New South Wales.
The waratah and wattle there in all their glory grow-
And if they bloom on hills elsewhere, I’m not supposed to know,
The tales that other States may tell-I never hear the tales!
For I, her son, have sinned as well as Bonnie New South Wales.
I only know her heart is good to sweetheart and to mate,
And pregnant with our nationhood from Sunset to the Gate;
I only know her sons sail home on every ship that sails,
Henry Lawson


Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson (17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922)[1] was an Australian writer and bush poet. Along with his contemporary Banjo Paterson, Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period and is often called Australia’s “greatest short story writer”.[2]

A vocal nationalist and republican, Lawson regularly contributed to The Bulletin, and many of his works helped popularise the Australian vernacular in fiction. He wrote prolifically into the 1890s, after which his output declined, in part due to struggles with alcoholism and mental illness. At times destitute, he spent periods in Darlinghurst Gaol and psychiatric institutions. After he died in 1922 following a cerebral haemorrhage, Lawson became the first Australian writer to be granted a state funeral.

He was the son of the poet, publisher and feminist Louisa Lawson.

Family and early life

Grenfell, Lawson’s birthplace, during the 2011 Henry Lawson Festival

Henry Lawson was born 17 June 1867 in a town on the Grenfell goldfields of New South Wales. His father was Niels Hertzberg Larsen, a Norwegian-born miner. Niels Larsen went to sea at 21 and arrived in Melbourne in 1855 to join the gold rush, along with partner William Henry John Slee.[1] Lawson’s parents met at the goldfields of Pipeclay (now Eurunderee, Gloucester County, New South Wales). Niels and Louisa Albury (1848–1920) married on 7 July 1866 when he was 32 and she 18. On Henry’s birth, the family surname was Anglicised and Niels became Peter Lawson. The newly married couple were to have an unhappy marriage. Louisa, after family-raising, took a significant part in women’s movements, and edited a women’s paper called The Dawn (published May 1888 to July 1905). She also published her son’s first volume, and around 1904 brought out a volume of her own, Dert and Do, a simple story of 18,000 words. In 1905 she collected and published her own verses, The Lonely Crossing and other Poems. Louisa likely had a strong influence on her son’s literary work in its earliest days.[3] Peter Lawson’s grave (with headstone) is in the little private cemetery at Hartley Vale, New South Wales, a few minutes’ walk behind what was Collitt’s Inn.

Lawson attended school at Eurunderee from 2 October 1876 but suffered an ear infection at around this time. It left him with partial deafness and by the age of fourteen he had lost his hearing entirely. However, his master John Tierney was kind and did all he could for Lawson, who was quite shy.[3] Lawson later attended a Catholic school at Mudgee, New South Wales around 8 km away; the master there, Mr Kevan, would teach Lawson about poetry. Lawson was a keen reader of Dickens and Marryat and Australian novels such as Marcus Clarke‘s For the Term of His Natural Life (1874) and Rolf Boldrewood‘s Robbery Under Arms (1882); an aunt had also given him a volume by Bret Harte. Reading became a major source of his education because, due to his deafness, he had trouble learning in the classroom.

In 1883, after working on building jobs with his father in the Blue Mountains, Lawson joined his mother in Sydney at her request. Louisa was then living with Henry’s sister and brother. At this time, Lawson was working during the day and studying at night for his matriculation in the hopes of receiving a university education. However, he failed his exams. At around 20 years of age Lawson went to the eye and ear hospital in Melbourne but nothing could be done for his deafness.[3]

In 1890 he began a relationship with Mary Gilmore.[4] She writes of an unofficial engagement and Lawson’s wish to marry her, but it was broken by his frequent absences from Sydney. The story of the relationship is told in Anne Brooksbank‘s play All My Love.[5][6]

In 1896, Lawson married Bertha Bredt, Jr., daughter of Bertha Bredt, the prominent socialist. The marriage ended very unhappily.[7] Bertha filed for divorce and in her affidavit she stated:

My husband has during three years and upwards been a habitual drunkard and habitually been guilty of cruelty towards me. My affidavit consists of the acts and matters following. That my husband during the last three years struck me in the face and about the body and blacked my eye and hit me with a bottle and attempted to stab me and pulled me out of bed when I was ill and purposely made a noise in my room when I was ill and pulled my hair and repeatedly used abusive and insulting language to me to me whereby my health and was guilty of divers other acts of cruelty and safety are endangered.

A judicial separation was granted and was declared in June 1903.[8][9] They had two children, son Jim (Joseph) and daughter Bertha.

Poetry and prose writing

Lawson (right) with J. F. Archibald, founder of The Bulletin

Henry Lawson’s first published poem was ‘A Song of the Republic’ which appeared in The Bulletin, 1 October 1887; his mother’s republican friends were an influence. This was followed by ‘The Wreck of the Derry Castle‘ and then ‘Golden Gully.’ Prefixed to the former poem was an editorial ‘note:

Sons of the South, awake! arise!
Sons of the South, and do.
Banish from under your bonny skies
Those old-world errors and wrongs and lies.
Making a hell in a Paradise
That belongs to your sons and you.

Sons of the South, make choice between
(Sons of the South, choose true),
The Land of Morn and the Land of E’en,
The Old Dead Tree and the Young Tree Green,
The Land that belongs to the lord and the Queen,
And the Land that belongs to you.

Sons of the South, your time will come —
Sons of the South, ’tis near —
The “Signs of the Times”, in their language dumb,
Foretell it, and ominous whispers hum
Like sullen sounds of a distant drum,
In the ominous atmosphere.

Sons of the South, aroused at last!
Sons of the South are few!
But your ranks grow longer and deeper fast,
And ye shall swell to an army vast,
And free from the wrongs of the North and Past
The land that belongs to you.

In publishing the subjoined verses we take pleasure in stating that the writer is a boy of 17 years, a young Australian, who has as yet had an imperfect education and is earning his living under some difficulties as a housepainter, a youth whose poetic genius here speaks eloquently for itself.

Lawson was 20 years old, not 17.[3]

In 1890-1891 Lawson worked in Albany.[10] He then received an offer to write for the Brisbane Boomerang in 1891, but he lasted only around 7–8 months as the Boomerang was soon in trouble. While in Brisbane he contributed to William Lane‘s Worker; he later angled for an editorial position with the similarly-named Worker of Sydney, but was unsuccessful.[3] He returned to Sydney and continued to write for the Bulletin which, in 1892, paid for an inland trip where he experienced the harsh realities of drought-affected New South Wales.[11] He also worked as a roustabout in the woolshed at Toorale Station.[12] This resulted in his contributions to the Bulletin Debate and became a source for many of his stories in subsequent years.[1] Elder writes of the trek Lawson took between Hungerford and Bourke as “the most important trek in Australian literary history” and says that “it confirmed all his prejudices about the Australian bush. Lawson had no romantic illusions about a ‘rural idyll‘.”[13] As Elder continues, his grim view of the outback was far removed from “the romantic idyll of brave horsemen and beautiful scenery depicted in the poetry of Banjo Paterson“.[14]

Lawson’s most successful prose collection is While the Billy Boils, published in 1896.[15] In it he “continued his assault on Paterson and the romantics, and in the process, virtually reinvented Australian realism”.[11] Elder writes that “he used short, sharp sentences, with language as raw as Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver. With sparse adjectives and honed-to-the-bone description, Lawson created a style and defined Australians: dryly laconic, passionately egalitarian and deeply humane.”[11] Most of his work focuses on the Australian bush, such as the desolate “Past Carin'”, and is considered by some to be among the first accurate descriptions of Australian life as it was at the time.[citation needed] “The Drover’s Wife” with its “heart-breaking depiction of bleakness and loneliness” is regarded as one of his finest short stories.[16] It is regularly studied in schools and has often been adapted for film and theatre.[17]

Henry Lawson The Drover’s Wife

The two-roomed house is built of round timber, slabs, and stringy-bark, and floored with split slabs. A big bark kitchen standing at one end is larger than the house itself, veranda included.

     Bush all around – bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple-trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek. Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilisation – a shanty on the main road.

     The drover, an ex-squatter, is away with sheep. His wife and children are left here alone.

     Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house. Suddenly one of them yells: “Snake! Mother, here’s a snake!”

     The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a stick.

     “Where is it?”

     “Here! Gone in the wood-heap;” yells the eldest boy – a sharp-faced urchin of eleven. “Stop there, mother! I’ll have him. Stand back! I’ll have the beggar!”

     “Tommy, come here, or you’ll be bit. Come here at once when I tell you, you little wretch!”

     The youngster comes reluctantly, carrying a stick bigger than himself. Then he yells, triumphantly:

     “There it goes – under the house!” and darts away with club uplifted. At the same time the big, black, yellow-eyed dog-of-all-breeds, who has shown the wildest interest in the proceedings, breaks his chain and rushes after that snake. He is a moment late, however, and his nose reaches the crack in the slabs just as the end of its tail disappears. Almost at the same moment the boy’s club comes down and skins the aforesaid nose. Alligator takes small notice of this, and proceeds to undermine the building; but he is subdued after a struggle and chained up. They cannot afford to lose him.

     The drover’s wife makes the children stand together near the dog-house while she watches for the snake. She gets two small dishes of milk and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.

     It is near sunset, and a thunderstorm is coming. The children must be brought inside. She will not take them into the house, for she knows the snake is there, and may at any moment come up through a crack in the rough slab floor; so she carries several armfuls of firewood into the kitchen, and then takes the children there. The kitchen has no floor – or, rather, an earthen one – called a “ground floor” in this part of the bush. There is a large, roughly-made table in the centre of the place. She brings the children in, and makes them get on this table. They are two boys and two girls – mere babies. She gives some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goes into house, and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes – expecting to see or lay or hand on the snake any minute. She makes a bed on the kitchen table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.

     She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the Young Ladies’ Journal. She has brought the dog into the room.

     Tommy turns in, under protest, but says he’ll lie awake all night and smash that blinded snake.

     His mother asks him how many times she has told not to swear.

     He has his club with him under the bedclothes, and Jacky protests:

     “Mummy! Tommy’s skinnin’ me alive wif his club. Make him take it out.”

     Tommy: “Shet up you little —! D’yer want to be bit with the snake?”

     Jacky shuts up.

     “If yer bit,” says Tommy, after a pause, “you’ll swell up, an smell, an’ turn red an’ green an’ blue all over till yer bust. Won’t he mother?”

     “Now then, don’t frighten the child. Go to sleep,” she says.

     The two younger children go to sleep, and now and then Jacky complains of being “skeezed.” More room is made for him. Presently Tommy says: “Mother! Listen to them (adjective) little possums. I’d like to screw their blanky necks.”

     And Jacky protests drowsily.

     “But they don’t hurt us, the little blanks!”

     Mother: “There, I told you you’d teach Jacky to swear.” But the remark makes her smile. Jacky goes to sleep.

     Presently Tommy asks:

     “Mother! Do you think they’ll ever extricate the (adjective) kangaroo?”

     “Lord! How am I to know, child? Go to sleep.”

     “Will you wake me if the snake comes out?”

     “Yes. Go to sleep.”

     Near midnight. The children are all asleep and she sits there still, sewing and reading by turns. From time to time she glances round the floor and wall-plate, and, whenever she hears a noise, she reaches for the stick. The thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle. She places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper to protect it. At every flash of lightning, the cracks between the slabs gleam like polished silver. The thunder rolls, and the rain comes down in torrents.

     Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned towards the partition. She knows by this that the snake is there. There are large cracks in that wall opening under the floor of the dwelling-house.

     She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves. A little son of her brother-in-law was lately bitten by a snake, and died. Besides, she has not heard from her husband for six months, and is anxious about him.

     He was a drover, and started squatting here when they were married. The drought of 18– ruined him. He had to sacrifice the remnant of his flock and go droving again. He intends to move his family into the nearest town when he comes back, and, in the meantime, his brother, who keeps a shanty on the main road, comes over about once a month with provisions. The wife has still a couple of cows, one horse, and a few sheep. The brother-in-law kills one of the latter occasionally, gives her what she needs of it, and takes the rest in return for other provisions.

     She is used to being left alone. She once lived like this for eighteen months. As a girl she built the usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes and aspirations have long been dead. She finds all the excitement and recreation she needs in the Young Ladies’ Journal, and Heaven help her! Takes a pleasure in the fashion plates.

     Her husband is an Australian, and so is she. He is careless, but a good enough husband. If he had the means he would take her to the city and keep her there like a princess. They are used to being apart, or at least she is. “No use fretting,” she says. He may forget sometimes that he is married; but if he has a good cheque when he comes back he will give most of it to her. When he had money he took her to the city several times – hired a railway sleeping compartment, and put up at the best hotels. He also bought her a buggy, but they had to sacrifice that along with the rest.

     The last two children were born in the bush – one while her husband was bringing a drunken doctor, by force, to attend to her. She was alone on this occasion, and very weak. She had been ill with fever. She prayed to God to send her assistance. God sent Black Mary – the “whitest” gin in all the land. Or, at least, God sent King Jimmy first, and he sent Black Mary. He put his black face round the door post, took in the situation at a glance, and said cheerfully: “All right, missus – I bring my old woman, she down along a creek.”

     One of the children died while she was here alone. She rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child.

     It must be near one or two o’clock. The fire is burning low. Alligator lies with his head resting on his paws, and watches the wall. He is not a very beautiful dog, and the light shows numerous old wounds where the hair will not grow. He is afraid of nothing on the face of the earth or under it. He will tackle a bullock as readily as he will tackle a flea. He hates all other dogs – except kangaroo-dogs – and has a marked dislike to friends or relations of the family. They seldom call, however. He sometimes makes friends with strangers. He hates snakes and has killed many, but he will be bitten some day and die; most snake-dogs end that way.

     Now and then the bushwoman lays down her work and watches, and listens, and thinks. She thinks of things in her own life, for there is little else to think about.

     The rain will make the grass grow, and this reminds her how she fought a bush-fire once while her husband was away. The grass was long, and very dry, and the fire threatened to burn her out. She put on an old pair of her husband’s trousers and beat out the flames with a green bough, till great drops of sooty perspiration stood out on her forehead and ran in streaks down her blackened arms. The sight of his mother in trousers greatly amused Tommy, who worked like a little hero by her side, but the terrified baby howled lustily for his “mummy.” The fire would have mastered her but for four excited bushmen who arrived in the nick of time. It was a mixed-up affair all round; when she went to take up the baby he screamed and struggled convulsively, thinking it was a “blackman;” and Alligator, trusting more to the child’s sense than his own instinct, charged furiously, and (being old and slightly deaf) did not in his excitement at first recognize his mistress’s voice, but continued to hang on to the moleskins until choked off by Tommy with a saddle-strap. The dog’s sorrow for his blunder, and his anxiety to let it be known that it was all a mistake, was as evident as his ragged tail and a twelve-inch grin could make it. It was a glorious time for the boys; a day to look back to, and talk about, and laugh over for many years.

     She thinks how she fought a flood during her husband’s absence. She stood for hours in the drenching downpour, and dug an overflow gutter to save the dame across the creek. But she could not save it. There are things that a bushwoman cannot do. Next morning the dam was broken, and her heart was nearly broken too, for she thought how her husband would feel when he came home and saw the result of years of labour swept away. She cried then.

     She also fought the pleuro-pneumonia – dosed and bled the few remaining cattle, and wept again when her two best cows died.

     Again, she fought a mad bullock that besieged the house for a day. She made bullets and fired at him through cracks in the slabs with an old shot-gun. He was dead in the morning. She skinned him and got seventeen-and-sixpence for the hide.

     She also fights the crows and eagles that have designs on her chickens. He plan of campaign is very original. The children cry “Crows, mother!” and she rushes out and aims a broomstick at the birds as though it were a gun, and says “Bung!” The crows leave in a hurry; they are cunning, but a woman’s cunning is greater.

     Occasionally a bushman in the horrors, or a villainous-looking sundowner, comes and nearly scares the life out of her. She generally tells the suspicious-looking stranger that her husband and two sons are at work below the dam, or over at the yard, for he always cunningly inquires for the boss.

     Only last week a gallows-faced swagman – having satisfied himself that there were no men on the place – threw his swag down on the veranda, and demanded tucker. She gave him something to eat; then he expressed the intention of staying for the night. It was sundown then. She got a batten from the sofa, loosened the dog, and confronted the stranger, holding the batten in one hand and the dog’s collar with the other. “Now you go!” she said. He looked at her and at the dog, said “All right, mum,” in a cringing tone and left. She was a determined-looking woman, and Alligator’s yellow eyes glared unpleasantly – besides, the dog’s chawing-up apparatus greatly resembled that of the reptile he was named after.

     She has few pleasures to think of as she sits here alone by the fire, on guard against a snake. All days are much the same for her; but on Sunday afternoon she dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush-track, pushing an old perambulator in front of her. She does this every Sunday. She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city. There is nothing to see, however, and not a soul to meet. You might walk for twenty miles along this track without being able to fix a point in your mind, unless you are a bushman. This is because of the everlasting, maddening sameness of the stunted trees – that monotony which makes a man long to break away and travel as far as trains can go, and sail as far as ship can sail – and farther.

     But this bushwoman is used to the loneliness of it. As a girl-wife she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.

     She is glad when her husband returns, but she does not gush or make a fuss about it. She gets him something good to eat, and tidies up the children.

     She seems contented with her lot. She loves her children, but has no time to show it. She seems harsh to them. Her surroundings are not favourable to the development of the “womanly” or sentimental side of nature.

     It must be nearing morning now; but the clock is in the dwelling-house. Her candle is nearly done; she forgot that she was out of candles. Some more wood must be got to keep the fire up, and so she shuts the dog inside and hurries around to the woodheap. The rain has cleared off. She seizes a stick, pulls it out, and – crash! The whole pile collapses.

     Yesterday she bargained with a stray blackfellow to bring her some wood, and while he was at work she went in search of a missing cow. She was absent an hour or so, and the native black made good use of his time. On her return she was so astonished to see a good heap of wood by the chimney, and she gave him an extra fig of tobacco, and praised him for not being lazy. He thanked her, and left with head erect and chest well out. He was the last of his tribe and a King; but he had built that wood-heap hollow.

     She is hurt now, and tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again by the table. She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead. The handkerchief is full of holes, and she finds that she has put here thumb through one, and her forefinger through another.

     This makes her laugh, to the surprise of the dog. She has a keen, very keen, sense of the ridiculous; and some time or other she will amuse bushmen with the story.

     She has been amused before like that. One day she sat down “to have a good cry,” as she said – and the old cat rubbed against her dress and “cried too.” Then she had to laugh.

     It must be near daylight now. The room is very close and hot because of the fire. Alligator still watches the wall from time to time. Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches nearer the partition, and a thrill runs though his body. The hair on the back of neck begins to bristle, and the battle-light is in his yellow eyes. She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the stick. The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack on both sides. An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten at one of these holes. The snake – a black one – comes slowly out, about a foot, and moves its head up and down. The dog lies still, and the woman sits as one fascinated. The snake comes out a foot further. She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him. Alligator springs, and his jaws come together with a snap. He misses, for his nose is large, and the snake’s body close down on the angle formed by the slabs and the floor. He snaps again as the tail comes round. He has the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches. Thud, thud. Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out – a black brute, five feet long. The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the enemy close to the neck. He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a terrier. He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind. The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back with a grip of iron. Thud, thud – the snake’s back is broken in several places. Thud, thud – it’s head is crushed, and Alligator’s nose skinned again.

     She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and the dog watch too. She lays her hand on the dog’s head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the fire. Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms around her neck exclaims:

     “Mother, I won’t never go drovin’ blarst me if I do!”

     And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.

Henry Lawson and children (1905), Royal Australian Historical Society/Osborne Collection

Lawson was a firm believer in the merits of the sketch story, commonly known simply as ‘the sketch,’ claiming that “the sketch story is best of all.”[18] Lawson’s Jack Mitchell story, On the Edge of a Plain, is often cited as one of the most accomplished examples of the sketch.[19]

Like the majority of Australians, Lawson lived in a city, but had had plenty of experience in outback life, in fact, many of his stories reflected his experiences in real life. In Sydney in 1898 he was a prominent member of the Dawn and Dusk Club, a bohemian club of writer friends who met for drinks and conversation.

Later years

In 1903 he bought a room at Mrs Isabel Byers’ Coffee Palace in North Sydney. This marked the beginning of a 20-year friendship between Mrs Byers and Lawson. Despite his position as the most celebrated Australian writer of the time, Lawson was deeply depressed and perpetually poor. He lacked money due to unfortunate royalty deals with publishers. His ex-wife repeatedly reported him for non-payment of child maintenance, resulting in gaol terms. He was gaoled at Darlinghurst Gaol for drunkenness, wife desertion, child desertion, and non-payment of child support seven times between 1905 and 1909, for a total of 159 days[20][21] and recorded his experience in the haunting poem “One Hundred and Three” – his prison number – which was published in 1908. He refers to the prison as “Starvinghurst Gaol” because of the meagre rations given to the inmates.[22][23]

At this time, Lawson became withdrawn, alcoholic, and unable to carry on the usual routine of life.

Mrs Byers (née Ward) was an excellent poet herself and, although of modest education, had been writing vivid poetry since her teens in a similar style to Lawson’s. Long separated from her husband and elderly, Mrs Byers was, at the time she met Lawson, a woman of independent means looking forward to retirement. Byers regarded Lawson as Australia’s greatest living poet, and hoped to sustain him well enough to keep him writing. She negotiated on his behalf with publishers, helped to arrange contact with his children, contacted friends and supporters to help him financially, and assisted and nursed him through his mental and alcohol problems. She wrote countless letters on his behalf and knocked on any doors that could provide Henry with financial assistance or a publishing deal.[22][24]

It was in Mrs Isabel Byers’ home that Henry Lawson died, of cerebral hemorrhage, in Abbotsford, Sydney in 1922. He was given a state funeral. His death registration on the NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages index[25] is ref. 10451/1922 and was recorded at the Petersham Registration District.[26] It shows his parents as Peter and Louisa. His funeral was attended by the Prime Minister Billy Hughes and the (later) Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang (who was the husband of Lawson’s sister-in-law Hilda Bredt), as well as thousands of citizens. He is interred at Waverley Cemetery. Lawson was the first person to be granted a New South Wales state funeral (traditionally reserved for Governors, Chief Justices, etc.) on the grounds of having been a ‘distinguished citizen’.[22]


Bronze statue of Lawson accompanied by a swagman and dog, The Domain, Sydney, designed by George Washington Lambert and unveiled in 1931

 Henry Lawson Centre, Gulgong, New South Wales

A bronze statue of Lawson accompanied by a swagman, a dog and a fencepost (reflecting his writing) stands in The Domain, Sydney.[27] The Henry Lawson Memorial committee raised money through public donation to commission the statue by sculptor George Washington Lambert in 1927. The work was unveiled on 28 July 1931 by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Philip Game.[28]

In 1949 Lawson was the subject of an Australian postage stamp.

In 2017 Lawson was again featured on two Australian postage stamps, one featuring Mitchell: A Character Sketch and the other The Drover’s Wife and family, including dog, pitted against the snake.[29]

Australian Paper Ten Dollar Note Value

He was featured on the first (paper) Australian ten-dollar note issued in 1966 when decimal currency was first introduced into Australia. Lawson was pictured against scenes from the town of Gulgong in NSW.[30] This note was replaced by a polymer note in 1993; the polymer series had different people featured on the notes.


Dorothea Mackellar

read it and let us start reconnecting with our country again

Dorothea Mackellar poet

My Country by Dorothea Mackellar(1885 – 1968)

Sadly this poem is sneered at by many and has been deliberately altered by others, but this poem says it all. What it means to be Australian. Perhaps the last verse is the most significant.The first verse is referring to England where many of our first settlers came from. The rest of the poem is of course about Australia. There are versions of this poem in which the first verse has been totally and deliberately deleted. This is un-Australian and an insult to the poet, and an insult to our early English, Irish and European settlers and their descendants.Please stop deliberately messing with Australian History. We have not got much so let’s try and keep what we do have as accurately as we can.

The love of field and coppice, Of green and shaded lanes.Of ordered woods and gardens Is running in your veins,Strong love of grey-blue distance Brown streams and soft dim skies I know but cannot share it,My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,A land of sweeping plains,Of ragged mountain ranges,Of droughts and flooding rains.I love her far horizons,I love her jewel-sea,Her beauty and her terror -The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest All tragic to the moon,The sapphire-misted mountains,The hot gold hush of noon.Green tangle of the brushes,Where lithe lianas coil,And orchids deck the tree-tops And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!Her pitiless blue sky,When sick at heart, around us,We see the cattle die-But then the grey clouds gather,And we can bless again The drumming of an army, The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country! Land of the Rainbow Gold, For flood and fire and famine,She pays us back threefold-Over the thirsty paddocks,Watch, after many days,T he filmy veil of greenness That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country, A wilful, lavish land-All you who have not loved her,You will not understand-Though earth holds many splendours, Wherever I may die,I know to what brown country My homing thoughts will fly.

Dorothea Mackellar Ovens Valley Highway between Porepunkah and Bright heading for Mt Bogong, Mt Hotham and the Dargo High Plains. Typical Australian bush scene. Mt Hotham is one of the highest mountains in Victoria. Great skiing in the winter and superb high country in the summer. Mt Feathertop is a little higher than Mt. Hotham and Mt. Kosciusko 2227.96 metres in New South Wales is the highest mountain in Australia.

Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature

Biography of Dorothea Mackellar

Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar was an Australian poet and fiction writer.

Life and Works

The only daughter of noted physician and parliamentarian Sir Charles Mackellar, she was born in Sydney in 1885. Although raised in a professional urban family, Mackellar’s poetry is usually regarded as quintessential bush poetry, inspired by her experience on her brothers’ farms near Gunnedah, North-West New South Wales.

Her best-known poem is My Country, written at age 19 while homesick in England, and first published in the London Spectator in 1908 under the title Core of My Heart. The second stanza of this poem is amongst the most well-known in Australia. Four volumes of her collected verse were published: The Closed Door (published in 1911, contained the first appearance of My Country under its present name); The Witch Maid, and Other Verses (1914); Dreamharbour (1923); and Fancy Dress (1926).

In addition to writing poems, Mackellar also wrote novels, one by herself, Outlaw’s Luck (1913), and at least two in collaboration with Ruth Bedford. These are The Little Blue Devil (1912) and Two’s Company (1914). According to Dale Spender, little has been written or is yet known about the circumstances behind this collaboration.

In the New Year’s Day Honours of 1968, Dorothea Mackellar was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to Australian literature.She died two weeks later. She is buried with her father and family in Waverley Cemetery overlooking the open ocean. A memorial to Mackellar stands in ANZAC Park in Gunnedah. A federal electorate covering half of Sydney’s Northern Beaches and a street in the Canberra suburb of Cook are named in her honour. (The Canberra suburb of McKellar was not named after her, but is often assumed to have been.)


A federal electorate covering half of Sydney’s Northern Beaches is named in her honour as well as a street in the Canberra suburb of Cook. (The Canberra suburb of McKellar was not named after her, but is often assumed to have been.)

On Australia Day, 26 January 1983, a statue was unveiled in Gunnedah to commemorate Dorothea Mackellar. In conjunction with the unveiling, there was an exhibition of a series of 34 water colour paintings by Jean Isherwood illustrating the writer’s most famous poem, My Country. The watercolours were eventually put on permanent display in the Gunnedah Bicentennial Regional Gallery. Isherwood set about painting a series of oils based on the watercolours which were exhibited at the Artarmon Galleries in Sydney in 1986.

In 1984, Gunnedah resident Mikie Maas created the “Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards”, which has grown into a nationwide poetry competition for Australian school students.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia Dorothea Mackellar; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Patterson

Anzac Role

Our daily dose of country and continuing the story of a great Australian Banjo Paterson’s Forgotten ANZAC Role: One of the Least-Known Parts of His Life April 23, 2020/in Articles, Celebration and Events /by Rhema Central CoastBy: Annie HamiltonMain image: Australian bush poet A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Inset: Light Horseman Private Richard Harwell Bryant on his waler, the kind of horse broken in and trained by Banjo Paterson. Bryant died aged only 38 while serving in Beirut, Syria, 1918. Photo: Australian War Memorial. All photos: Public DomainThose tough Aussie horses, broken in and trained for the exact task before them, struggled in the soft, burning Middle Eastern sand, their fetlocks sinking deep in the desert hills.The dust of their efforts was a rising column in the still, searing air. The relentless blazing sun seemed intent on delivering one message: ‘Go home, Aussie. This place is for camels, not horses’.It was the Sinai Desert, 1917—more than one hundred years ago.After the evacuation at Gallipoli, Anzac troops were sent back to Egypt, from where they were ordered to liberate of the Holy Land, then ruled by the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Reunited with their horses, the Light Horsemen set off across the desert, their emu plumes waving.“They flicked through their military-issue Bibles, awed with the thought that they were following in the footsteps of Moses, Abraham and Jesus.”A group of bushmen from Queensland soon had a solution to that soft-sand problem. In anticipation of trench warfare like that in Gallipoli and France, some chicken wire had been sent to prevent sand from sliding and caving in any defences. But the bushies knew it could be used to build a road. Soon the horses and troops with their 30 kg of kit were using this unusual ‘highway through the desert’.Many were conscious, as they travelled, that this was the route that the Christ Child must have taken on returning from Egypt after escaping the murderous King Herod.

They flicked through their military-issue Bibles, awed with the thought that they were following in the footsteps of Moses, Abraham and Jesus.Looking back, we can see these Aussies, too were riding into history – on their faithful Walers. The great horses had been brought out on troopships from Australia and corralled at Heliopolis in Egypt. Every farmer had to donate a horse to the war effort and, as those breaking them in were to learn, it was rarely the best beast.How Banjo Paterson Helped in the Lighthorsemens’ Success Above:

The 12th Light Horse Regiment in training at Holsworthy, NSW, 1915. Photo: Sydney Mail Leading the team of horsebreakers that broke in the feral brumbies – those famous ‘wild bush horses’ – as well as farmer’s nags and the occasional decent pony, was a man renowned throughout the English-speaking world for his poetry: AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson, best-known for his works, The Man From Snowy River and Waltzing Matilda.While many teenagers had added a few years to their age to register for active service, Banjo had dropped a couple from his.He’d gone to London, hoping to be sent as a journalist to the Western Front in Flanders, but was unable to obtain a position. He drove an ambulance in France but, on learning of the formation of the Australian Remount Squadron in the Middle East, he hurried home.“It was the behind-the-scenes efforts of these world-class trainers that made possible the famous Light Horse charge at Beersheba on 31 October 1917.”Commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force, he was eventually sent to Moascar in Egypt to command a motley group of men including buckjumpers, circus performers, farriers and veterinarians. They broke in thousands of horses and mules, shod them, fed them, groomed them, raced them, trained them for battle conditions and kept the best of them for the ordinary front-line trooper. This was despite, as Paterson noted, the constant efforts of officers to secure the best mounts for themselves.It was the behind-the-scenes efforts of these world-class trainers that made possible the famous Light Horse charge at Beersheba on 31 October 1917. As one trooper quipped, in typical laconic Aussie style, the success of the charge wasn’t about the heroism of the troops but that the men couldn’t hold the desperately thirsty horses back once they smelled the water.The beginning of the liberation of the land God had promised to Abraham wasn’t so much about a single charge as the coordinated efforts of many units working together.Anzacs Who Carried the Bible With Them Above:

(L) The 3rd Light Horse Regiment, AIF, at Palestine, with Bethlehem in the background, 1918/19. Photo: Australian War Memorial. (R) Australian light horsemen on their walers before leaving Australia, November 1914. Trooper William Harry Rankin Woods at front, of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, would be one of the first light horsemen killed at Gallipoli, dying from his wounds on May 15, 1915. Photo: AWM.

The Anzacs were conscious the wells of Beersheba featured strongly in Biblical history. The famous khaki New Testament ‘On Active Service’ was issued to the Australian Army; it came in two different blue hues for the Navy and Air Force. More than one million copies were carried to war in shirt pockets.‘Banjo’ was no stranger to the Bible. His mother, Rose, ensured that the Bible and nightly prayers were the family’s strongest companions. His mother was very keen for her children to understand how the Scriptures emphasised concern for others as well as good manners and respect for all.Why Didn’t Banjo Paterson Write Poems About the Lighthorse? Above: The 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment crossing the River Jordan on a pontoon bridge between Jersualem and Moab, at Ghoraniye, April 1918. Photo: Australia War Memorial. ‘Banjo’ Paterson is immortalised on our ten dollar note. Yet his role in the Anzac battalions is one of the least-known parts of his life.It has slipped to obscurity, perhaps because – mysteriously – he never wrote a poem about the great Walers he worked so hard to train.Or if he did, none of those writings have survived.Perhaps he found their loyalty and faithfulness too heart-breaking to commemorate once the decision was made to leave all but one of the horses behind after the war was over. For many Aussies, the unthinkable came to pass when they had to leave their ‘best mate’ behind.‘Banjo’, however, did produce some poems during the war. They’re not nearly as famous as his earlier ballads, but the patriotism and larrikin spirit of the Aussie bushman shines through.One such poem was Boots, written while he was in Egypt somewhere near 1917. The poem is found in From Gallipoli to Gaza: The Desert Poets of World War I, along with other wartime verses by Banjo Paterson. It includes works by many other poets, as well as stories of the circumstances in which they were written.Article supplied by Diduno – an organisation dedicated to educating and informing the next generation of Australians of our Christian heritage.

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